Deferral, Agency, and Hope: Pre-Service Social Studies Teachers Making Sense of the Pedagogical Demands of Engaging Climate Crisis

Elaine Alvey


This study works to answer the question: In what ways are pre-service social studies teachers conceptualizing the difficult knowledge of climate crisis? By analyzing a small group discussion following a pedagogical encounter with climate crisis in a teacher education program, and employing the notion of difficult knowledge, the author theorizes moments of hope, agency, and deferral in the sense-making processes. Issues of ecological harm have largely been excluded from social studies education research, including social studies teacher education, and this omission, paired with the urgent need for climate crisis pedagogies, builds the case for research that seeks to understand the ways in which pre-service social studies teachers are making sense of the difficult knowledge of climate crisis and the ways they are conceptualizing this as part of their work as social studies educators. The analysis reveals the multitude of challenges pre-service teachers face as they work to make sense of climate crisis both for themselves and in imagining the pedagogical demands of engaging young adolescents in issues of climate crisis in their future classrooms. Also highlighted are discourses of deep pessimism and deferral, running alongside hopefulness, as these pre-service teachers grapple with the size, urgency, injustice, and totality of the challenges that lay ahead. The ways these pre-service teachers are making sense of climate crisis has important implications for pedagogies of difficult knowledge regarding the complex challenges of climate justice relevant in the social studies classroom.


Climate Change; Difficult Knowledge; Pre-Service Teachers

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