At the end of the 2015-16 academic year, I had a young whipper-snapper of an Outstanding budding teacher called Mr Moses. Then I had the privilege of mentoring him, fast-forward four years and had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mr Moses for an episode of “Ruskin Asks”, a project by The Priory Ruskin Academy’s Geography Department and Eco-Committee.
Below, you can watch the interview, recorded the middle of last year. Also scroll down a bit further to find a ‘contents’ that you can use to skip through to a discussion topic of interest, and for a full timestamped transcript!
Index (topics of discussion):
- 00:43 – Where did your career in geography begin for you? How did you become a teacher?
- 06:20 – What did you find most interesting about your Environmental Science degree?
- 08:40 – What were some of the highlights (and ‘low-lights’) from your teaching career?
- 14:45 – Do you feel like being a geography teacher made you a better geographer?
- 18:45 – The pros and cons of going the ‘extra mile’
- 22:21 – Taking a sabbatical in America
- 27:06 – How making connections led to prestigious placements
- 29:42 – Being ok with not sticking to one career
- 36:10 – Do you regret any of the [career] risks you’ve taken?
- 39:15 – Why there is hope in tackling climate change
- 46:03 – Is climate change a political issue?
- 51:14 – What influence do you think social media has on the climate change debate?
- 56:06 – What do you think you found most rewarding in your career? What would you suggest people should be looking for when they’re planning their careers?
Cleaned transcript (linked timestamp to video recording in brackets):
Mr Moses (00:00): Thank you for joining us for our third episode of ‘Ruskin Asks’, the new project launched by the Ruskin Geography Department and Eco Committee. Each week during the summer, we’re speaking to one guest who has had some involvement with the environmental sector. Please check out our last two episodes of the Black Mambas from South Africa, Ashley Leiman, CEO of the Orangutan Doundation. This week, we’re incredibly lucky to be joined by Kit Rackley, someone who has some amazing experiences to share with us. Not only that, but they also happen to be the person who trained me to teach! So a very special episode for me. Welcome Kit! Thank you very much for joining us.
Kit (00:39): Welcome Mr. Moses. It’s so lovely to see you!
Mr Moses (00:43): We’ll get into so your career in a bit. I think what we’re interested in is really where it started. So where did your career in geography begin for you?
Kit (00:53): Careers don’t tend to kind of like bloom out of nothing. There’s like a lead into them. So that’s quite the question! But in terms of where geography started [for me] and how it led me into a career, it really was in high school. I had a few wonderful teachers, but one in particular was my geography teacher, Mr. Summerville, back down in, in Harlow, Essex. He was like a classic teacher, like sit at the table and talk really, but his delivery and the way that he would draw pictures with his words was quite incredible, and he used to get us to do many creative [things] as well, like a lot of sketching, which I really loved.
(01:41) And then I started to realize that as I went out and about during my daily life, as a kid, I would suddenly have this kind of like geography x-ray vision. So instead of seeing like maybe a tree, I would see a whole ecosystem, which was feeding nutrients around or something like that. Instead of seeing a beach, I’d be almost seeing pebbles move along; long shore drift. And that was almost like a superpower to me. So I always thought that geography was going to be something I was going to be doing for part of my life. But then, because it’s such a diverse, interesting, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary subject, I had no clue what that could possibly be. So really in terms of my career in teaching (because I first became a geography teacher, as you alluded to before, that actually didn’t start until pretty much the final week of my last year at university.
(02:32) In other words, months before I started my teacher training, it was on a whim, and I can trace back to me doing it for three reasons. We can elaborate this later because of the questions you’re going to ask, but, one, is that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Two, is that other opportunities were taken or overly competitive and, three, between my first and second year of university, I worked with kids in America on a summer camp thing, a classic summer job. I had a bunk full of ten-year-olds and I loved it. And I was good at it! At least people told me I was good at it. So I thought maybe a career working with children isn’t a bad idea. And I love geography; I’ve just finished a degree in Environmental Science; I don’t know what I’m going to be doing… why don’t I train to become a teacher. It really was as flippant as that. And they say the rest is history, but I guess I’m going to elaborate a bit later.
Mr Moses (03:24): So it was your, your geography teacher who started you off, because we are superheroes!
Kit (03:32): It’s so cliche, isn’t it? It was my geography teacher that set me on the path.
Mr Moses (03:35): I’m sure there’s plenty of students that could say the same about you! And then it was to university?
Kit (03:42): Yeah. So then I went to the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and did a degree in Environmental Science. I was hugely lucky to do that. I didn’t get amazing grades at GCSE. I got decent grades. But I only got through three A’s out of my 10 GCSEs and my A-levels pretty much were terrible for what my potential was, just put it that way! And I almost didn’t make it into higher education at all. The UEA was one of the ones that actually turned around and said we’ll take a risk on you. I guess the moral of that story is so long as you’re working on trying your best, don’t worry too much about what happened regarding what number is on that piece of paper, because you can still have these opportunities.
Mr Moses (04:26): What do you think made them take that risk? What was it about you that convinced them?
Kit (04:30): That’s a really good question. I’m trying to figure that out for myself! I guess it was because when I got those A-level results my heart sank, realizing those letters weren’t as high as I needed them to be (I needed three Bs and I didn’t get them – not a single B). I think it might’ve been the fact that I was determined and passionate. I actually called [the UEA] directly and just said, look, this is the situation, there were some circumstances involved, but I understand that I could have probably tried a little bit harder… this is what it is. I’m so passionate, and I think the way that I came across; my desire, my motivation, and they said, okay, well, we can see what your predicted grades, where we can see how much passion you’ve got, your references and what’s on your UCAS form.
(05:26) My UCAS form must have been good enough and impressive. Then they said, okay, we’ll take you on if you come ‘this year’, because originally I had put ‘deferred entry’. Maybe your Year 12s or Year 13s will know what this is, but a deferred entry is when you skip a year and then you start the following year. So maybe you go traveling or have a gap year or something. [The UEA said] take away your deferred entry, come in September and we’ll accept you. So I was lucky. Persistence and character as much as those grades, really.
Mr Moses (05:59): We’ll probably get into it a little bit more, but one of the themes I’m seeing from some of the research is being able to take opportunities that are, that make themselves available rather than having that rigid plan.
Kit (06:10): And so much of my path in life has been taking opportunities and creating opportunities.
Mr Moses (06:20): I think that’s something we can really learn. To get back to the original question and university, what was it you found most interesting in your degree?
Kit (06:32): With the subject, it was so many paths that you could take. The first year at university, when you do a degree like Environmental Science, it’s very, very broad. You do intro to this, intro to that, intro to chemistry, mathematics for the environment or statistics… It’s quite broad and you can do very big subjects like geology or geodynamics, which is basically plate tectonics and movements within the earth. Then what happened happens is that you start to then narrow your choices through year two and year three. Just the pathways you could take was the most interesting thing to me. And the fact is, if you start going down one path (so I ended up going down the meteorology and climate path), I still needed to do other things to make up credits to pass those years. So then I thought, well, I’ll take environmental epidemiology [for example]. So what’s happening with coronavirus right now is it’s exceptionally interesting to me because I learnt about the spread of disease. So like how does that relate [to other courses?], well actually you find out that these things do relate to each other very, very well; how weather and climate plays an impact on disease and the spread of disease and epidemiological processes. It was interesting that you’ve talked to the Black Mambas, because at the end of my second year, I actually went to South Africa with the UEA and I did some environmental risk work with the locals just outside of Kruger National Park.
(08:00) Put it this way, imagine going into asweet shop and having a whole range of things to choose from. And you always gravitate towards your favorite sweets, your favorite one or two. There’s always those things that go in your bag. But every now and then you can pick some different things off the shelf you think, well, this looks interesting! I never quite noticed this or had this before! So the interest was in the spice of the variety of it all really.
Mr Moses (08:40): That really resonates! I couldn’t believe some of the things I studied on my geography degree and getting to study things like human evolution, which I’d never even considered. But as you say you start seeing how it all sort of ties in. I suppose that climate meteorology that might become more relevant later, but we can’t really talk about your journey without talking about teaching. You’ve said that sort of came about almost like your degree, a little bit. Opportunities presented themselves. What were some of the highlights from your teaching career?
Kit (09:16): My goodness, there are so many! I probably was should state here, it’s good for people to know as well, is that some of the ‘lowlights’ are just as important and teaches you a lot about yourself and helps you to grow as a person as much as the highlights do. To start with a couple of highlights, and this is not playing to the crowd, so to speak! But, one of the highlights is taking on training teachers like yourself because I get to see these fresh minds coming in with their new ideas and fresh from their degree, and then you get to see them grow and how they learn with the students. So working with [trainees] like yourself and other trainee teachers is definitely a highlight.
(10:02) It’s less about getting students grades and getting them making good progress. It’s more about the legacy and the journey that they take. So I have a couple of examples. There’s one particular young man who was estimated quite low grades. And this is the days of letters [for grads], so estimated basically ‘C’s and ‘D’s. His dream in life was to be a wrestler, which he has actually fulfilled! He’s a semipro wrestler now…
Mr Moses (10:36): Through his geography!
Kit (10:38): Actually it’s funny because he has messaged me and said it’s helped in some way shape or form, which is quite bizarre! But anyway, he would come into my classroom almost every lunchtime and say, “excuse me, Mx Rackley, but I’m a bit stuck with this”.
(10:52) [A highlight is] the joy from students like that who come by, really eager to learn, and then you build up a rapport with them – that’s how I got to know that he was interested in wrestling. Then I tried to use wrestling analogies to help him learn. When he opened that envelope at the end of the Year 11, he actually ended up with an ‘A’ in geography bearing in mind his predicted grades almost across the board were ‘C’s and ‘D’s. So making those connections, those personal connections, are always highlights.
(11:23) Another one, which is a bit more personal to me, is supporting students emotionally as well. That’s an important part of the job is as you know; safeguarding and supporting students’ emotional safety as well as their physical safety.
(11:40) I don’t know why, but I used to have students come to me all the time with their ills and their moments, but there’s one particular student who used to come to many of us teachers and built up the courage to come out as a transgender girl in front of the whole of her year group. She stood up in assembly and came out in front of a whole year group, which was a magical moment. And for me, for my personal journey, that was quite an inspirational moment as well. So you can see that it’s not all geography-related or subject-related. It’s actually the personal connections.
(12:13) Definitely one of the highlights is it’s taking students on a field trip to America in 2012. It was the extracurricular group, the Geoggers group. I’m lucky enough that my partner has a family which has a house outside of Bozeman, Montana. I took students out there and that was just the most amazing experience ever.
(12:34) The ‘low-lights’ – one which I will say is in my determination to make sure students achieve, in my naivety as a young teacher, I thought it was a great idea to kind of like give students a spreadsheet with colour-coded blocks that says these are the bits of the mock exam that you need some help with, and these other coloured bits are the bits you did really well. And my idea was I give this copy to everybody, then they could find each other and say “Oh, I struggled on this bit. You did really well on it. Do you mind if we can [help each other]?” So I was going to do a lesson to get them to have almost like a speed-dating kind of thing, where they can support each other.
(13:14) But actually, that made some students very vulnerable because I was displaying what they didn’t do well to the rest of the class. I didn’t check for consent or anything like that. I genuinely thought it was a great idea, but I didn’t realize that I was actually making some students very vulnerable. One particular student, rightly so, made a complaint. And [a meeting was called where] it was me, the head teacher, the student and her parents. First thing they said to me when I walked in the room was “To start off, we think that you’re a lovely person and a wonderful teacher. And… you and other teachers, are the best thing that’s happened to our daughter”, things like this, “but….!”. It was a lovely discussion, and it actually ended up with us all bursting into tears, including the head teacher, and having a consented group hug!
(14:07) But it was a really lovely nice moment because it does grounds you back down as a human being. It turned a ‘low-light’ into almost a highlight. It really helped me in that journey to make sure that I’m protecting kids emotional safety and consent. So, yeah, I just wanted to say to who ever is watching: don’t dismiss the low-lights and the downtimes; they can be quite horrible and they make you feel terrible and you just want to push them out of the way. But if you can try and make a learning opportunity out of them, then that you turn them from low lights into highlights, you can really grow as a human being and connect more with the people around you.
Mr Moses (14:45): I think it’s really useful for our students to see teachers from a different angle. I don’t think they necessarily understand the impact they can have on our lives. And I think that, that you’ve made that really obvious. Do you feel like being a geography teacher made you a better geographer?
Kit (15:07): Oh, without a shadow of a doubt! Your students have probably heard the term ‘Jack of all trades’? Most of us have a degree in something. So like my specialism is in meteorology and climate. I have that specialism, but when it comes to other things, I had to learn. When I first started teaching geography, I knew nothing about glaciers. And when I taught my first Year 10 class at the young age of 22 and it came to the Development module, I was a nervous wreck! I was like “Oh my God, what if I get it wrong!? I need to figure out what’s this Rostov model!?” So you have to then learn.
(15:49) Then I started reading the kid’s textbooks; that was very helpful. But I always go a level above. So when I teach Key Stage 3, I want to make sure I’m prepared at a GCSE level when I teach. When I make sure I’m prepared at A-Level, when I teach it, I want to be prepared at degree level. So what I then do, is I do some more deeper reading. The amount of learning you do yourself is amazing. The best thing is I would recommend any of your students thinking about teachers or educators, or maybe teachers themselves is this: being human and learning with the students is the best thing you can do. And saying things like, “you know what, I don’t know that”, or “that’s a good question, shall we find out together?” Or perhaps “I’ll tweak the homework a little bit, do you want to have a go and see what you can find out and then maybe report back next lesson and then we’ll learn together, and then we’ll start questioning together?”
(16:41) As you know, I’ve been recently been doing blog articles and video blogs about certain aspects that I didn’t have any clue about which now I feel a little bit more comfortable doing. But you don’t have to know everything and you can always pick someone else’s brains and they’ll always be someone out there – and it could even be a student – who knows better than you. [For example] Year 9, teaching development. I’ve been to Malawi. I know a bit of Chichewa, so I can say: “Muli bwanji?”, “Zikomo kwamberi!”, but in terms of being someone who has experienced Malawian culture and lived out there, I’m a white westerner of privilege.I don’t know very much about that. So I don’t want to type teach stereotypes about Malawi. So I had this Year 9 lad lead his class. It was this amazing lesson that I never taught! I learned from him myself. And then actually I managed to get him out of class and teach the other Year 9 lessons about what Malawi is from a Malawian point of view. And I learned so much there.
(17:42) And I guess it goes with other subjects as well. If you’re a historian, there are parts of history you’re not quite sure of, and you learn that. If you’re a biologist, you probably specialize in some things, so you learn more. So yeah. Being a teacher is one of the best ways to learn. Absolutely.
Mr Moses (17:55): I’ve found that it’s probably improved my understanding when I joined, I thought I get all this, I understand it, but actually going through it and teaching it to someone else it really does [help]. And I think it’s nice to hear that other teachers are learning alongside the students.
Kit (18:10): And you students, you’ve got to understand that your teachers will be just as vulnerable as you sometimes. They will be learning stuff for the first time sometimes or dealing with it. So, hopefully your teacher, I know miss Mr. Moses is comfortable with this, feeling vulnerable themselves that they’re learning first time. If a teacher says, “I don’t know, shall we learn that together?” You can connect with that very, very well and then go on that journey together. And it makes you closer in that teacher-student relationship as well.
Mr Moses (18:45): Absolutely! The other thing I picked up there then was your tendency to sort of go the extra mile. Like you said, with the degree you got in because you were proactive, you went to speak to them and your teaching career sort of followed that through. Do you feel like you got more from your career because of your approach to it?
Kit (19:10): Certainly, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Not only kind of going the extra mile first when you’re a young teacher and quite naive, you say yes way more times than you should do. On the one side it’s brilliant, because I’ve got all these extra experiences, I’ve got to do these extra projects and summer stuff [etc], but on the other side it makes you absolutely shattered and quite drained. And it wasn’t until a teaching assistant came up to me at end of the lesson and said you look knackered, you’d better start saying no a bit more. So yeah, going the extra mile is great, but I’m wondering if you have students who watch this and like to do every extracurricular club or like to get extra involved. Well, this is great while you’re young and got the energy, but perhaps even now start, start learning to say not right now, or maybe later, or no. That’s not you being nasty or being selfish. It’s actually a bit of self care.
(20:06) Going the extra mile as a teacher, as I said, I’ve managed to do so much like that USA trip; I didn’t need to do that. I just wanted to do it. So I did it. I ran a World Cup themed thing during lunchtime. Basically, it was a whole-school run thing where every form was assigned a country in the World Cup. And in form time they had to do some little projects, like artwork, so it was cross-curricular. And then during lunchtime they’d play the [football] games. So they’d select a five-a-side team to play it. I run that completely and it was excellent. But, if I was teaching period four, I’d have to quickly run out and get the goals out and then I’d miss lunch myself.
(20:55) I have fond memories of those kinds of things, but going the extra mile by the definition of the term go the extra mile, you’ve got to run an extra mile, you got to spend energy. So I’d say to your students, try and practice doing it strategically. And if you’ve got the ability to do the extra mile in many things maybe try and prioritize what you’d like to go the extra mile in. It’s a life skill that you learn over time. I still haven’t got it quite down and I’m in my late thirties!
Mr Moses (21:29): That balance is difficult, isn’t it? But, but committing to what you do has what’s opened some of those doors for you.
Kit (21:37): And I’d say, do what’s required of you to the best of your ability first, obviously. Then because then that will kind of organically give you opportunities to go the extra mile. So, like, if we’re planning a lesson and just lay it on because that’s what you need to do, that’s absolutely fine. If you want to see if there’s any news articles about a particular issue… that in a way is going the extra mile while fulfilling your responsibilities. So there are ways of kind of doing that. Then when it comes to applying for jobs or careers, and [the interviewer says] can you tell us a piece of work that you’re really proud of? You can then go back to the things that you had to do, but you went the extra mile with.
Mr Moses (22:21): Yes, it’s giving yourself those chances. So, in the end you did leave teaching and I suspect our conversations about the opportunities making them available for yourself will become a bit more relevant now. You took a sabbatical in America. For the benefit of our students, culd you tell us a little bit about what a sabbatical is and what you did on yours?
Kit (22:43): A sabbatical is meant to be something where you take a break from whatever you’re doing. And then during that break, you do tasks, research or something which relates to your career. For me, I’m happy to say in front of your students, I was getting burned out. I was getting stressed and I was having some mental health issues. Bit I didn’t want to leave teaching because I loved it so much and I loved working with the students. So I went to my head teacher and I said I’d like to do a sabbatical, which is basically a year off.
(23:20) I wanted to over to America because my wife’s from America. I’ve got loads of connections out there, and go to all these places that I know I love in America, family places as well, and use them to enrich my teaching. And the plan was to come back to the school and then help my department and other departments develop more resources and teaching ideas from what I’ve learned in America. So that’s a sabbatical. Some teachers go on a sabbatical to write a textbook, some teachers go on sabbatical to visit a place that they teach about and so forth. So I approached my head teacher. She was my line manager so she knew my personal circumstances. I said I think I need to take a break, will you give me a sabbatical? I had to write a letter to say what would I do, what the proposal was…
(24:11) That was accepted and in the academic year of 2017-18, I went to America. I hung out mostly with my friends and family out there, but it was the connections I had that made it successful. For example, one of my closest friends, who I met at the summer camp in 2002, I’ve remained friends with this person (a hint for your students, if you make connections try to keep them if you can!), and she actually works as a public outreach officer and a tour officer of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Your older students would probably know who they are, they’re a really big climate and environmental science [department] run by the US government. So if you imagine if you put the Met Office and NASA together, basically that!
(25:18) So [my friend] did that in Boulder, Colorado and she got me in contact with people who worked in the climate science division. I managed to work there for two months as their education officer, with world-leading climate scientists with massive equipment. I did amazing things: released weather balloons, went up in aircraft to take air measurements, and work with world-leading climate scientists on inventions that they were making. And then the second thing I did was to work in a museum [the Exploratorium] in California, in San Francisco. My cousin-in-law, worked for them as their Environment Officer. When COVID is all done, if any you guys ever end up in San Francisco go and visit the Exploratorium! Even better get in contact with Mr Moses and I can get you on the guest list to get you in for free!
Mr Moses (26:12): Connections!
Kit (26:13): Absolutely, see! Proof of connections! And that was a dream. It’s a hands-on science museum, and one of my roles was to be an education officer for the environment program. So I would do talks, I would go and speak to visitors on the museum floor. I would take part in talks with local people, [who] would come in talk about their environment or how science can help improve the environment or inequality and things like that. Because there’s a very large ethnic minority community in San Francisco.
(26:52) So that was my sabbatical! I did other things as well. I went back to Montana, I went to Minnesota and did loads of things. I wrote a blog which Mr Moses can provide a link to later if anyone’s interested.
Mr Moses (27:06): That’ll be in the comments. I had written down here ‘NOAA’ and ‘Exploratorium’ with a big question mark, because they’re not places you can just walk into. So I’d always wondered how you got in there. It’s interesting to see how those [connections] 12, 18 years ago, which you might not even think of, has those consequences further down the line.
Kit (27:31): Right, exactly! So my friend from the summer camp; we were young people just trying this thing out. She ended up going to work actually as an elementary and middle school teacher in the United States from that. And I ended up as a teacher and then we just reconnected again when we moved on and did different jobs, but both in education. So yeah, you just do not know how your connections can work out decades later. Do keep hold of connections because you never know… one of your friends might end up working for a place where you could ask them questions like, potentially can I come in and volunteer? Can I come in to see your work for a week? And then you make other connections. You might not be paid; I wasn’t paid for my sabbatical. My income was the rent for renting my house out. That was it and savings. So it was a risk, but it was a worthwhile one. So yeah, make connections!
Mr Moses (28:26): It’s those connections and making those impressions…
Kit (28:33): Of course my degree helped because when I spoke to the connections, I then said this is my background. It’s my degree. I’m a teacher. I know about climate science, because I did it for my degree. So I could come and help talk to the members of the public who visit your labs about the work that you do. And I only understood about twenty-five percent of the science that those guys did. Incredible science, so deep and complex. Even they don’t understand each other’s science sometimes, they told me, because it’s so specialized. They only really communicate the bits that need to link up. And then the rest of it… I sat next to a scientist, somebody with a PhD, and we were listening to someone talk about the progress on their research. And I said to them, be honest with me, how much of this do you understand? Because I said, I think I get about 25% of it through what I know and he said “Kit to be fair, I only understand about 30-35% of it!” and this person works at NOAA and is a scientist! So it just goes to show how important it is to have those connections and interdisciplinary thing and not to worry if you don’t know things.
Mr Moses (29:42): That’s definitely answered a few questions for me. I suppose it’s nice to see that; most people think once you’re in that career of teaching, you’re pretty settled in it and you’re done, but there’s that flexibility that fluidity afterwards. That’s an interesting takeaway, I think.
Kit (29:57): I have full respect for teachers who go the whole 30-odd years career-wise. I mean, going back to what we said earlier, I was always the person who’d say yes a lot and go the extra mile. I think I ended up burning out after my 12-13 years. Maybe it wasn’t the only reason for the burnout and the mental health issues, but it was one of the reasons certainly. I guess the moral of the story is, I think, don’t expect or worry or be so concerned that a career will be for life and it’s okay to be ‘unsettled’. If you go down a route and you feel it’s not working out or it’s not panning out, it’s absolutely fine and okay to feel, ‘I didn’t realize that this is not for me’. Or maybe, the work you do is for you, but who you’re working with isn’t right for you. So there’s going to be so many reasons why you might want to change. It should not be a reflection on yourself. And maybe even the students, you’ve started an A-Level and you think, you know what? It’s not quite [what I thought], although it’s very difficult to change your A-Levels, I understand that. But then, it’s quite likely that you can end up doing a degree off a tangent…
Mr Moses (31:12): Yeah, you don’t know what kind of oppportunities may come up later…
Kit (31:15): Speak to your university. Say, I know this degree isn’t quite matching up with the A-Levels that I’m doing… You’ll be surprised that actually a lot of universities will turn around and say, well, your A-Levels themselves are good enough. They show that you you’re committed to learning stuff. And of course, don’t worry about if you’re not going to university. Vocational work is very important and interesting as well. So it’s not always about university.
Mr Moses (31:41): All those lessons from your career are applicable whether you go down the academic route or the vocational route or wherever you go. Making those connections, working hard, keeping those doors open, it’s going to be applicable wherever you go.
Kit (31:53): And if any of your students watching this thinking, I don’t want to go to university, I feel a bit devalued; try not to feel that way because in this coronavirus epidemic who’ve we mostly relied on? The healthcare workers… but what about all the cleaners or the shop workers? All of those key workers, where would we be right now without those? We need people of all types, all passions, and all fields.
Mr Moses (32:24): And whatever you do be a good one! So once you got back from your sabbatical, it turned into not a sabbatical!
Kit (32:53): Yeah! It ended up being a gap year, which is different because a gap year is like a break in anything. So talk about opportunities…! It got to Easter of 2018 and I was actually preparing to go back to my high school. Then an old lecturer of mine at the UEA [University of East Anglia] who taught me meteorology said a colleague of his is actually looking out for someone like an education officer to promote [their work] and help train, not just students and teachers, but also train other academics. So, [train] meteorologists about how energy systems work and energy people about how the climate system works. Because you can imagine that with climate change, if you don’t have an understanding of energy systems, then meteorologists can’t produce things and information that are useful for them like wind information, solar information and forecasts and stuff like that. There’s this misconception [in the general public] that wind and solar energies are like… ah, there you go, the sun’s just gone behind a cloud now, so that’s it, solar energy is useless for the next five minutes! It’s not like that. You’ve got things like seasonal forecasts, which means that actually [these conditions were] expected. They’ve planned the energy system for that. Energy people need meteorological expertise,
Mr Moses (33:57): Almost plugging those gaps that you noticed at NOAA.
Kit (34:01): Yeah. So the agency I ended up working for – I applied for the job as an education officer for a company called the World Energy and Meteorology Council (WEMC) – they are this group that gets energy experts and climate experts basically working together to make their systems a lot better and make the data a lot better. It’s one of the ways of helping to adapt and mitigate against climate change. So that was right up my street and I was doing educational talks and I was training actual scientists in how to communicate. It was quite cool! I helped develop a GIS tool which your students can use. I can give that link if want to put it in the description a bit later. And that was just a complete opportunity that was completely out of the blue. I wasn’t looking for it. It was actually the meeting up with my old professor when I came and visited, during my sabbatical, back in the UK. It was me, him and a meteorologist called Chris Bell who people on [BBC News] Look East might see on the TV doing the weather – the weatherman with the American accent! We went out for a drink, and when my ex-professor said [WEMC were] interested in looking for [someone]. And then I handed my notice [at my school].
Mr Moses (35:16): Just a conversation that took you in that direction.
Kit (35:19): Just a conversation! I wasn’t looking for an ‘out’ of teaching, I was fully preparing myself to go back into teaching. In all fairness I was very nervous and I was quite sad that I knew this could be me leaving the teacher profession because I loved it so much. I miss the students and everything. But when an opportunity like that comes along, you have to think to yourself what’s more valuable at this stage? Is that getting these other experiences? Or maintaining the status quo at the moment? I could have made a decision either/or. It could have been a metaphorical flip of the coin. I just thought to myself, this opportunity is probably not going to come around again. So I took it and I haven’t been a frontline teacher since September 2018.
Mr Moses (36:10): I suspect I know the answer to this question, but do you regret any of the risks you’ve taken?
Kit (36:21): Yes and no. No, as I say, I’m grateful for the opportunities. So if we take the choice I’ve made, like we’ve just been talking about, no, because I now have friends who work on climate science, at the Met Office and universities all around the world. I now know more about energy systems and climate systems. And I’m more optimistic about solutions of climate change, because I can see everything below the surface and it’s made me realize that actually there’s more that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to solar farms and wind farms, and the kind of climate data that goes into that kind of stuff. I’ve made new connections like discussed before, which I can tap back into now and then.
(37:12) And, yes [I do have regrets] on the other side, because one thing that continues to fill me with joy is when X student gets in contact. Or I bump into them or they contact me… Quite a lot of them are in their mid to late twenties now. Actually a few of them have become geography teachers because of me, or they’re doing a [related] career on or something completely unrelated. Like, an ex-form student of mine – I won’t for consent and privacy reasons say they who they are, but a bit of a media personality now – but while he was in Year 8 their mother passed away which is of course very traumatic at that age. And he said that the comfort and the support and the drive [I gave him] to kept going is why [he has] got the energy to do what he’s doing now, because there are things that there are moments his my life when they could have given up, but I didn’t becausethey kept remembering what I said. And now his this kind of social media media guru in East Anglia anyway. And I reckon he’s going to go places. So the regret is, almost a bit self self-serving to say this, but having those kinds of moments and , influencing more people’s lives. Not influence as in steering them but giving them the confidence, giving them the belief. 13 years in the career, I think I’ve cast a lot of pebbles into the pond and sent ripples out, and then they will go and make ripples themselves. So regrets? More like a dreamily nostalgia. I’d love to do that again. Maybe one day I’ll be back in the classroom.
Mr Moses (39:15): I did want to dig into the environmental issues a little bit, and certainly our Sixth Form researcher who’s been looking into some of these sectors really wanted to dig down into the climate change aspect a little bit more with it being such a relevant topic at the moment. You mentioned there that you’ve got a little bit more hope from your experiences?
Kit (39:40): Yes. I would say to the students as well that it’s quite difficult to feel hopeful right now. Putting the media away and aside, you now have scientists using quite emotive language. And they only use language if it’s accurate and applicable. So when you’ve got scientists in their articles or in their journals, using words like “Siberian heatwave would be impossible without anthropogenic (human made) climate change”, scientists don’t use the words like impossible unless it’s accurate and appropriate, or using words like emergency. So when you start having scientists using almost the same kind of language as the media, then you know we’ve got a problem. Now that could make you feel quite down. It could make you quite upset.
(40:38) However, we know that there is a certain amount of climate change that is happening and will happen because there’s a lag between our carbon emissions and it takes a while for the climate system [to see] changes in the chemistry in the atmosphere. So we are set into a certain level of warming as it is, but we could still avoid what’s called ‘dangerous climate change’ which would spark various tipping points in which could accelerate [warming] further. And the kind of things that I’ve seen which have been really, really cool… is this book right here [called Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming]. It’s pretty good and you can see them online (drawdown.org). It gives you about all the different ways that you can mitigate and draw down carbon out of the atmosphere.
(41:34) And it’s so diverse. So you’ve got your classic ones, like geothermal energy, wind energy and stuff like that. But then you’ve got things like how temperate forests help and it gives you some examples of the work that we’re already doing. Retrofiting buildings; like the Empire State Building has been undergoing quite a lot of that. Bike infrastructure, net zero, family planning… And there’s a whole section about how empowering and educating women and girls around the world is one of the best things you can do to help mitigate and adapt to climate change. So books like this fill with you hope because they give you examples of things that are really already happening. I didn’t come across this [if it wasn’t for my] job.
(42:27) So then I start learning about that, and of course I already mentioned about how there’s already work going on to make sure that we optimize renewable energy. Climate scientists do things called seasonal forecast. So they forecast three months ahead; the energy sector use that information to know when they can optimize wind energy and solar energy. So if it’s going to be quite a sunny month, they know they know that they can maybe turn down the input from fossil fuels because they know there’s more solar energy coming in. It’s all about regulating the grid… And we know through just basic climate that you get generally get more wind in the winter and more sun in the summer, so those two things can help support each other. I can’t go into depth because I can’t understand myself, but you have no idea how much research and work has gone into that – to optimize renewable energy.
(43:23) One of the reasons why you see renewable energy taken off is not because it’s so affordable now; that it’s actually becoming cheaper energy to produce than fossil fuels (although that’s a catalyst), it’s all this extra work that’s going on underneath as well. And then you’ve got battery storage. We only see the commercial side of things; the consumer side of it all, but again there’s so much work going into battery storage, both home batteries or batteries for grid, or for solar farms or wind farms. The technology on that is coming on immensely. I’ve got an electric car and in a few years time, I’ll be able to plug my electric car into my house. The solar panels on my roof can charge my electric car, and I can use my electric car as a battery for my house. You’ll see that coming online in the next few years. So there’s reasons to be optimistic.
(44:22) Us as Westerners, especially white Westerners, we have a lot of privilege in the fact that we are going to be the least impacted by climate change impacts. So I think the real worry is going to be the effect on the vulnerable. If you’re an empathetic person, the real worry and cause of anxiety is the impact on the most vulnerable in society.
(44:52) And that can happen in the UK. I’m currently writing an article for the Geographical Association about climate change as a safeguarding issue and the floods that happened in Sheffield last year (2019), there was a school which was not flooded itself, but unfortunately the floods around that school meant that a few students actually had lost their homes. They were vulnerable students, already low income families, they were on the verge of being homeless and that’s in the United Kingdom. So it’s those kinds of people are going to be having the most anxiety. So the question for us, how would us who can do something… what changes can we make in our life to make a positive difference and take action and not get bogged down. Allow yourself to feel anxious. You’re allowed to do that. How can you turn that anxiety into action or into agency? I would say ‘optimistic’ maybe is not the right word, perhaps realistic, and that if we all band together, we can make it through this and we can avoid the worst. There’s still time for that.
Mr Moses (46:03): The thing that gives me hope, the students we teach really sort of get this issue and care about it. We’ve got our eco committee, which have helped set this up and Ashley [in last week’s Ruskin Asks] was highlighting the importance of the local action and the impact that can have wider. It’s interesting to hear about some of the things you talking about there that maybe people won’t be aware of, the things bubbling under the surface that hopefully we’ll see a bit more of in the next few years. One of the questions where our Sixth Form researcher has really hit on an interesting thing here, is whether climate change should be a political or a science issue?
Kit (46:43): That’s a big question. Whoever said that, thanks for that! That’s fantastic. When an issue becomes so big that it starts impacting people’s lives, it’s unavoidably a political issue. Scientists don’t want it to be a political issue because it’s science. For me, who’s worked with the data, seen the data and worked with people who have gone through the process of that, I know that anthropogenic climate change is real. Everything that you see that come out from authoritative sources, so the Met Office, the IPCC, NASA, NOAA in United States, you can rely on those sources. They are not in the job of telling lies because it undermines their science. Can you imagine every scientist in the world being part of a global conspiracy just to get money? It doesn’t work like that.
(47:48) Scientists are always out to disprove each other. Not maliciously; because that’s how science moves forward. [Scientists] want to try and pick holes to make sure that you’ve got it right or got it as best as you can. The trouble is when you get an issue like this and scientists give out scientifically based recommendations of what should happen, people start to look at that as an infringement on their freedoms and an infringement on their beliefs, or an infringement of what they can and can’t do because it’s like ‘the man’ telling them what they can and can’t do. And as soon as that happens with any scientific issue, it now becomes a political issue because then you will have populist politicians who will resist that. Like coronavirus, some people don’t want to wear face masks. Especially in America, so you get populist politicians saying “freedom, you should be able to do what you want!” which is completely beside the point. It’s got nothing to do with restrictions of freedom, and it’s the same with same with climate change. So yes, we should all be eating less or no meat. But for the people who love meat, and they get people telling them that they shouldn’t eat meat, they see that as an infringement on their freedom and then on ‘their rights’, which is a bit of a push! Then they will side with politicians who do not promise to ban meat, reduce meat, make it low carbon… Unfortunately the way that society is structured, this is one of the downsides of democracy, so to speak (I’ve forgotten who said it, but someone said that democracy is the worst form of government apart from everything else!)
(49:30) So unfortunately climate change is a political issue. But not by choice. Which is why you have pressure groups like Extinction Rebellion and why they’re so polarizing because they’re seen as a political entity. And then of course, you get people who don’t understand the science and think it’s all about politics and all they want to do is change other people’s minds. So if you do want to get into the climate change issue, you can’t avoid the politics side of things. So you want to try and do is make your own way and say what changes can you make? What can you do in your life?
(50:21) We’re not trying for everybody to have a perfect solution. We want everyone to have imperfect solutions because if everybody does what they can, that adds up. How many of your students have seen that meme that says, “Oh, it’s only one plastic straw said 7.5 billion people.”? Young people getting political is a great way as well. Having the support of grown ups is very important. But, how can you do that more effectively? Write to your MP. Having your family write to your MP or vote-in the politicians that have green policies and things like that? So the short answer (too-long-didn’t-read) is you can’t avoid it! It is political.
Mr Moses (51:14): What influence do you think social media has on the climate change debate or could have?
Kit (51:21): Too much! Because what it does is it makes it difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. What is relevant and what is not relevant? What is real and what is not real? That’s why you see a lot more organizations use social media. But the problem is that they’re very, very poor at fact checking. They’re very poor at calling people out. And this is not censorship. It’s not ‘cancel culture’. It’s not that kind of thing at all. If you have someone on social media spout that injecting disinfectant is a good idea, that’s harmful, and it’s not true. There’s no evidence that’ll work and it can actually harm or kill someone. Being able to say that, that’s not freedom of speech. That’s causing harm. So there’s a difference. The problem is with social media is that they don’t have very good regulation. And they’re very scared of going down that route of regulation and monitoring because too many people see it as censorship. So putting in ‘fact check’ [messages] on Donald Trump’s tweets, for example, is a good idea, but his supporters won’t like it and want Twitter to be shut down.
Mr Moses (52:44): We had a fantastic debate in my key worker bubble with some Year 7s’ getting really passionately into this, the difference between free speech, free media… And I suppose the onus becomes on the individual to educate themselves in this case.
Kit (53:00): I subscribe to ‘hate speech is not free speech’. The other thing is subscribed to is: absolutely, free speech, 100%, everyone should have it, but just like we tell our students isn’t it is that if you want a right, there’s a responsibility that comes with each right. So the right to free speech comes with responsibility that you should be held to account for your views. So if you put out, because it’s freedom of speech, that you should be injecting disinfectant into your veins to cure coronavirus, which we know is complete nonsense, you should own the responsibility of giving that piece of information out and you should be challenged on it. So social media can be good in that respect that it can have checks and balances, but it needs for me, personally, the people at the top to facilitate that too. It needs the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Jacks to turn around and say if someone tweets about something, we’ll put a little link underneath that gives people the opportunity to have a look at an official or authoritative source about checking whether they’re right. Of course, then the next next debate is what do you classify as an authoritative, reliable source for that. At least that moves the conversation and the debate onwards.
Mr Moses (54:12): It’s a minefield, isn’t it? I suppose in terms of getting the positive message out there, there’s probably no better way than social media, absolutely. But those checks and balances are important.
Kit (54:26): So students use your social media, but always take things with a pinch of salt and double check on things. So if someone claims something on social media, there’s [for example] fullfact.org – that’s a very good one; an independent fact checking service. And just go to an official site who specializes in that issue and see what they say. So if it’s a climate change and it’s not from an official site, so it’s not from NOAA climate, for example, then go on to NOAA’s website or onto their Twitter feed and see what they say about the issue. Another is a really good website called the Media Bias Chart (just Google it you’ll find it). The Media Bias Chart gives you a chart that you can use to identify which media sources are more likely to be factually based and least bias. Then you can go to those media websites and see how they are reporting on the issue. So there’s always ways to go around it.
(55:26) So don’t not use social media and Wikipedia… sorry for any Ruskin teachers who ban Wikipedia with their students…! But in my opinion, you should be using Wikipedia on one condition. If the claim doesn’t have a [reference] number after it, dismiss it, probably someone’s opinion. If it does have a number at the end of the sentence, click on that number, it will take you down to the references, and then check the source of that claim. And then if it takes you to an authoritative source, then that’s fine to quote from. But, impress your teachers and quote the reference, not quote Wikipedia!
Mr Moses (56:06): That’s what I try and tell them! You can start with Wikipedia, but don’t leave it there! It’s a beginning point.
If I could, just two more questions left. Number one, and you you’ve sort of touched on it a bit, what do you think you found most rewarding in your career? What would you suggest people should be looking for when they’re planning their careers?
Kit (56:38): Don’t worry about too much about planning your career for a start. Go with what your heart is set on now, with the recognition that that might change one day and that change is okay. Whether the opportunities come along and the environment and the circumstances give you the chance to take those opportunities is another matter. But then you can cross that bridge when you come to it. The highlight would certainly be, what geography and environmental science has done for me, is what I always say to students (I never pressured students to take GCSE geography or A-Level or go into a degree) is I believe it is the truth that if you do an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary subject, like geography or environment science, you’re very unlikely to close doors. If anything, you’ll certainly keep doors and opportunities in the future open, maybe even open ones that you never knew existed. And it also gives a little bit more flexibility and resilience because the students now who are coming into their GCSEs or think about doing a GCSE is that the job market’s going to be completely different in 10 years time. But what are they going to be focusing on? Well, you run through the Drawdown book or the website, you’ll see the multiple… and they’re all geography related. So geography feeds into quite a lot. And there’s some statistics out there say that Geography makes people some of the most employable people out there, not because of the what you learn, but because of the variety. The spice of life kind of aspect of it.
Mr Moses (58:14): I always think it’s the connections between those things as well, through a different perspective.
Kit (58:19): I don’t know if you remember Mr. Moses, but I used to play this game with the Year 7’s to introduce geography I used to say to them, I want you to challenge me… give me five topics that you don’t think I can relate to geography!
Mr Moses (58:31): What you’ve done is expose me to my Year 7’s!
Kit (58:34): Aha! Do it! But you’ll find that when it comes to linking back to geography, you can’t avoid it. So for the older ones of us, you may remember Bob Monkhouse the comedian who used to ask the audience to give him two words and he used to tell whole entire story which used to leap from that one word or name to another word or name. I don’t know if it’s on YouTube… But if you ever see Bob Monkhouse do that, he’s incredible! But geographers can do that! You take a subject and you’ll get back to geography. And then you realize that to understand all those links in between, geography helps.
(59:14) So my highlight therefore is just how much [geography] exposes. The fact that you can look at almost anything and then understand, or at least start to understand, what process has go on behind them.
Mr Moses (59:28): I think you’ve answered my second question in there as well brilliantly. It’s nice to hear someone talk so passionately about, not even just about geography, but about what they do.
Kit (59:38): You know my life could have taken another turn when I was a bit younger. I wanted to do something to do with space like astrophysics or something like that. But even higher grades needed for that, and it was even more competitive. So I kind of abandoned that idea very quickly. I’m just thinking, can you image that if like an astrophysicist, how interesting, amazing and fantastic that would be, but how narrow it could be as well. It’s almost like putting your eggs in one basket. But we do need astrophysicists! So if any of you out there are thinking about it, it is incredible. A friend of my wife who lives in California, in Santa Cruz, her daughter is an astrophysicist. She’s like one of the most brainiest people out there! She’s discovered planets in inhabitable zones and stuff like that! So if you want to specialize in something you can, but geography does keep your doors open!
Mr Moses (1:00:38): I do like that phrase ‘doors open’. I always think students will come and say “what’s the point in doing geography? I know what I want to do now.” Well, keep your doors open. I’ve had that with one of our Year 13’s who wasn’t sure about geography, but is now applying for environmental practitioner apprenticeships. So keeping those doors open.
Kit (1:00:57): And the skills and the knowledge and the understanding you get from that, if they decide actually I did originally want to do [something else] then actually that you’ll be able to find a pathway back to it.
Mr Moses (1:01:07): Absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for your time!
Kit (1:01:10): It has been absolutely my pleasure. And I know I ramble on a bit, but I hope people at least thought it was interesting!
Mr Moses (1:01:15): I found it fascinating. I think there’s some really good lessons from there. Thank you very much.
Kit (1:01:20): Thank you. And it’s lovely to see you again, Mr. Moses, and to see that you’re doing well.
Mr Moses (1:01:24): Yes! And thank you for being a ‘useful connection’!
Thank you! All my education work via the Geogramblings’ “Life Geographic” blog is done all in my spare time, at my own cost but is free for you to access and enjoy. If you can spare a few pence, I’d be delighted if you could show your thanks by ‘buying me a coffee‘.