A Student Teacher's Personal Pathway to Education for Sustainability

By Kennelly, Julie; Taylor, Neil et al. | Australian Journal of Environmental Education, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

A Student Teacher's Personal Pathway to Education for Sustainability


Kennelly, Julie, Taylor, Neil, Maxwell, Tom, Australian Journal of Environmental Education


Introduction

The literature on education for sustainability (EfS) is replete with descriptions of its invisibility in schools; explanations for this; and proposals to help bring about a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable future (Fien, 1993; Grace & Sharp, 2000; Tilbury & Cooke, 2005; Stevenson, 2007). The "why it is invisible" suggestions include the crowded curriculum, lack of time, lack of resources, difficulty in teaching across Key Learning Areas, the lack of opportunity to orchestrate learning out of doors, lack of teacher preparedness and the pervasive contemporary detachment of modern (usually urban) life from the natural world (Payne, 1998; Gruenewald, 2003). Arguably, education has a key role to play in addressing our contemporary environmental problems. Assuming that this is the case, then teacher motivation and skills for engaging with EfS are central to our capacity to adapt and shape our future. However, to date there has been little research to explore the issues that student and early-career teachers may face when attempting to integrate EfS into their teaching and what teacher education providers can do to encourage and support them in their efforts.

The purpose of this paper is to sketch a profile of a student who is entering the profession with a positive outlook and determination to weave her personal sense of environment and pedagogy of EfS into her work. Her outlook could of course be dismissed as being merely the idealism believed to be characteristic of many preservice teachers (Wideen, Mayer-Smith & Moon, 1998). Moreover, this is a study of "one". As such, it offers a narrative that portrays a pathway of determination to engage with environmentalism, but is limited in its application in that no valid generalisation can ensue.

The student, pseudonym Annie, is at the point of completion of pre-service primary teacher education, and not yet fully confronted by the ways in which the school may affect the implementation of EfS. Annie's profile outlines her intentions and sense of identity as a teacher, how that has developed and how it is expressed. Further discussion centres on Annie's view of how teacher preparation should address EfS and of how schools can encourage new teachers to teach EfS. These themes will be a part of ongoing research that follows Annie and others into their beginning teacher year. The first two authors were Annie's tutors in an EfS coursework unit referred to in a later section. This study is informed in particular by the literature pertaining to EfS and to teacher identity, how values influence teacher decisions, and what student teachers draw from teacher education.

Influences on Teachers and the Teaching of Education for Sustainability

Practising teachers tend to teach what they particularly care about (Sund & Wickman, 2008). There are teachers who see EfS not as a body of knowledge but as a way of looking at teaching and learning that reflects personal beliefs about the value of the environment (Hart, 2003). Even so, in addition to the often expressed barriers to EfS mentioned above, Barrett (2007) has identified our cultural norms of self expression and everyday language use as further constraints. She describes how the subject of her study, a specialist environmental educator, working under none of the usual constraints of schooling, chose to keep his deep environmental concerns and convictions on the fringe of his teaching. He chose to use his work time to develop new technology-based teaching materials rather than an holistic EfS program. This Barrett (2007:215) explained as follows:

   Contrary to arguments that if teachers believe in a particular
   pedagogical approach they will use it, or that those who are
   motivated and care will take up environmental education, I suggest
   that the power of dominant discourses, (re)inscribed through
   everyday language and social practices, may seriously constrain
   ways in which impassioned teachers like Jeff teach environmental
   education. … 

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