What have I learnt? A Teach the Future Retrospective.

Hello, Readers!

My name is Jude Daniel Smith. I’m a 16-year-old climate activist from Sheffield, in England. You may know already, but I have been a Campaign Coordinator for Teach the Future since last May (A very long time!). I’m leaving at the end of this month to focus on my (now cancelled, funnily enough) GCSE exams coming up, so I wanted to have a bit of a reflection on my time as staff for this amazing campaign.

I joined Teach the Future all the way back in February of last year, so almost a year now - it was all so new. There was less than ten of us, and honestly, I felt so excited. It was like that weird butterfly-like feeling you get when you get something in the post. I could see so much good would come from this campaign. I was flung straight into the action by an awesome trip down to Parliament to lobby MPs to support our English Climate Emergency Education Act. I pulled in, after napping on the train, to St Pancreas station. I got the tube down to Westminster, and of course, went to get a meal deal with the few quid I’d taken with me. No less than a minute after starting to drink a coffee I’d gotten, a man bumped into me and I got coffee all over a bright pink shirt I was wearing. I got to Parliament Square, where everyone was gathered, with iced latte dripping comically down my funky tie. Despite this, though, that pre-lockdown day was one of my best.

COVID became unignorable, even for the government. As we all know, lockdown happened - I’ve always struggled with my respiratory system, and I was in the hospital for a while with pneumonia a couple of years ago now. I was pretty worried. That anxiety, coupled with a real lack of government support for/planning by my school (I really don’t think anyone was too prepared country-wide, though) led to a bad few months. I didn’t have a lot left - my volunteering, which really was the most enriching part of my life, was on hold, as it was mostly in person. As cliche as it sounds, Teach the Future really did fill a pretty blatant gap.

I attended calls every week, building bonds with friends who I’d consider some of my closest now, all the while planning for expansion. Within less than a couple of months, I was helping run the same recruitment campaign I’d signed up for earlier in the year! There was talk that SOS-UK, a parent organisation of ours, would be hiring a few student volunteers to coordinate more projects we were putting on. It didn’t really register, to be honest, it went in one ear and out the other. It didn’t occur to me - being a 15-year-old who could never find a place to work in Sheffield - that that was something I could do. Me? Coordinating a campaign? I didn’t think about it too much, until…

Then comes April. I saw messages about the application process for the job. Something about it kind of kicked that ‘fight or flight’ response into gear. I went for it. I got the interview, got it done, and accepted the role. Okay, I simplify that quite a bit, but you get the gist. I was over the moon. Then came the real challenge - getting a work permit. A bit of background; as a 15-year-old, I had to get my council to issue me a child work permit to ensure I wasn’t being exposed to unfit working conditions. Due to COVID, the office was at capacity and wasn’t issuing permits. However, after almost two months, lobbying 2 MPs and a whole cabinet of councillors, I got it! I started work in late May, and I loved it from the getgo.

In the last 8 months, I’ve done everything I’d hoped to, and got so much from it. It has been the absolute opposite of mainstream education, and I loved the juxtaposition, I’d get home from school every day and embark upon what I saw as an adventure. I’m now a published author, with my pieces in multiple environmental journals, and I’ve developed my ability to network and engage with others phenomenally. Don’t get me wrong, this job has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but my time with Teach the Future has been one of my biggest achievements.

Our mainstream education system ‘teaches’ you. They say they ‘aid in your learning’. I think these are both valid claims, even if the way they do these things are massively flawed. One thing I know now, though, is that an experience like this, that I have been so lucky to have gone through, does something much more. This past year has enabled me to learn myself. I have the tools I need to progress. I am so grateful for my time here because now I know what I want, and I have so many more pieces to complete the puzzle to get to that.

To the Teach the Future Team,

I love you guys so much. Thank you for making this awful year something to smile about.

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Teach the Future is a youth-led campaign to urgently repurpose the entire education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis.
The English campaign is run by two organisations, UKSCN and SOS-UK.

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