The role of teachers is to educate and train future generations by passing on theoretical knowledge and practical skills to their students. A teacher typically works at a school or other institute of formal education, although circumstances vary between cultures. Teachers provide instruction on many subjects and in many disciplines, including literacy and numeracy, art, religion, civics, medicine and science.

Traditional forms of teaching — in which the teacher is the central figure and learners are passive — are gradually giving way to more effective forms of training:

  • Active learning, where students play a central role in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Learning activities may include writing, reading, group work, discussions, role play, case studies, group projects, simulations, seminars, problem solving and tasks related to analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
  • E-learning, which makes use of electronic media to transmit knowledge and skills. Coursework can be stored on a home computer and completed online or via an electronic network.
  • Learning by doing, an educational method in which people work and learn together. Students acquire knowledge through real activities and practice, rather than by passively absorbing information.
Education plays a fundamental role in changing patterns of social and economic behaviour. Teachers should introduce students to environmental concerns and the concept of sustainable development at a young age in order to have the most positive impact.

Educators should teach their students — whether children or adults — how the environment functions, how they are dependent on it, and how they affect it. Children in particular are very responsive to such lessons. The seeds of understanding planted now will produce a new generation of responsible citizens.

A classroom setting provides ample opportunities for young people to develop social responsibility and practical capacities for their future role as adults. Environmental education and education for sustainable development can instil awareness of the interconnections between human beings and their habitat, enabling young students to make a commitment to society and to care for their environment. In turn, both teachers and their students can pass on the main messages to their families and other members of society.

Students get out of a course what the teacher puts into it. Teachers can have a lasting impact if they are enthusiastic about teaching, enthusiastic about their students, and enthusiastic about the subject matter.

Today’s educators should bear in mind that the kind of education we now need in order to protect the Earth involves far more than the mere dissemination of information. We are drowning in information! Our knowledge of the natural world has raced far ahead of our wisdom in using this knowledge. As a result, we are razing our forests, hollowing out our mountains, siphoning off our rivers, paving our plains, modifying our climate, polluting our air and tainting our blood. In other words, we are producing a world that none of us wants.

Stones in a jar

One day, a teacher took a large, wide-necked jar and proceeded to fill it with stones. She then asked her students whether the jar was full. They all answered that it was.

The teacher then took a handful of gravel and poured it into the jar. The gravel quickly filled the space between the larger stones. Again, the teacher asked the students whether the jar was full. Nearly all of the students replied in the affirmative.

Next, the teacher poured some sand into the jar and asked her students a third time whether the jar was full. Most of the students remained silent, but some shouted “Yes!”

Finally, the teacher took a glass of water and poured it into the jar where it was quickly absorbed by the sand. The teacher then asked the students what they had learned from the demonstration.

One of the students answered. “No matter how much you learn in life, there is always room for more knowledge!”

“That’s true”, the teacher agreed, “but there’s something even more important. You have to put the biggest stones in the jar first, or they'll never fit inside. The big stones are the most important things in your life — your relationships with family and friends, your personal growth, your attitude towards others. If you spend all your time on things that are less important — the gravel, sand and water — there will be no room for the bigger issues in life.”

In terms of environmental protection and sustainable development, what are the “big stones” that teachers can encourage their students to make room for in their minds?