The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Making a Difference as a Vegan School Teacher

Posted on October 27, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

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By Alicia Hueckmann, intern visiting from Germany

Of all professions related to veganism, school teachers are probably not
among the jobs one would think of first. Is it even possible to actively
promote a lifestyle that is completely different from that of many
families and not get in trouble? As a student teacher who has taught
several middle and high school classes, I have found quite a few
‘loopholes’ that have enabled me to share my love for animals with my
students without having to fear consequences.

Before we move over to my list, I would like to make clear first that my
experience is limited to relatively liberal German schools – I have
never actually experienced what it is like to be a teacher in the USA.
So before you start any of the following vegan ‘projects,’ take into
consideration how liberal your school is in general (e.g. do they raise
awareness for or deny climate change?), how open-minded the staff at its
cafeteria is (do they try to serve healthy food or do they rely on junk
food?), and how well you get on with your class parents (are there any
overly protective parents or parents that tend to complain much about
what you do?).

While making a difference as a vegan biology teacher is probably very
easy – they usually have many opportunities to show their pupils how
beautiful nature is and that it is our duty to take responsibility for
animals and the environment – this does not mean that they are the only
ones that can. I, for example, ‘only’ teach English, German, and Math and
it works perfectly, as you will see in the following list.

1. Implicitly make veganism a part of your lessons
In modern languages, pupils in Germany are required to talk about
environment-related topics at school. As my class’ textbook (11th grade)
only shortly mentioned the impact of the meat industry on the
environment, I decided to dedicate a whole lesson to the topic by having
a classroom discussion that was supposed to prepare the class for their
upcoming oral exam. In my experience, many people become very passionate
when it comes to their eating habits – and it is also a topic that
literally everybody has experience with (unlike local politics, for
example). This was why even those students that are usually not
motivated enough to raise their hands, made some kind of contribution
that day.

Before the discussion started, I divided the class into two equally
large groups, based on their personal preference and my own assessment:
The first group promoted meatless diets. The second one was in favor of
omnivore diets. I printed out several articles for both groups which
listed the advantages or disadvantages of the two lifestyles. It was up
to the students to decide which articles were reliable and convincing
enough to quote in the discussion as I did not only bring articles by
scientists or journalists but also rather biased activist groups and
climate change deniers.

As to be expected, almost all of my students participated in the
discussion and both groups came up with serious, reasonable arguments.
At the end of the discussion, one of the vegetarian pupils of this class
thanked me for giving her and her friends an opportunity to share their
beliefs with their classmates. My meat-eating supervisor was also happy
with my ideas and the lesson’s theme which enabled and encouraged
everybody to participate. See http://www.vrg.org/environment/

This was one example of a way in which you could make veganism (or
rather the impact of the animal industry) part of your lessons. For
Math, I could also think of math text problems in which you ask students
to calculate how much water it takes to produce a burger patty or how
many showers equal the amount of water needed for a steak etc. as part
of a group of questions related to environmental protection.

2. Bring vegan treats for your class
I have been in charge of my former school’s English Drama Groups for two
years now. It has become a bit of a tradition for me to bake a cake or
muffins to make dress rehearsals more enduring or to celebrate a
successful performance. Some of my pupils were very skeptical when I
told them that I made vegan sweets for them for the first time –
apparently, the only time they had heard the word ‘vegan’ before was in
a negative context – but after having a bite, they completely changed
their mind; some even asked for the recipe. But this is not the only
reason why I am sure that veganism is now connoted very positively with my
students. As two of my student are allergic to lactose and eggs, it is
usually very difficult for them to feel as part of a group during a
community meal during most of which they are the only ones that cannot
participate. As vegan food does not contain any animal products,
however, they never had a reason to feel excluded or disadvantaged. So
the next time you and your classes have a reason to celebrate, bring
some vegan treats with you. You won’t even have to explain the benefits
of this diet – let the food speak for itself!

3. Support vegetarian or vegan groups
Another great way of making a change at your school is encouraging
students who are already vegetarian or vegan to share their passion. If
you know any vegetarians or vegans in your class, talk to them after
school and ask them if they would be interested in starting a veggie
club. If your school requires supervisors for clubs, make sure you are
the first one to volunteer. Veggie clubs can work on many different
projects like encouraging their school cafeterial to offer healthier,
more plant-based options, raise money for a good cause by selling veggie
food, organizing a school debate, etc. In this case, your students will do
most of the work and you will mostly be in the background providing
support. As a consequence, you will be able to indirectly reach those
classmates and students that you as a teacher wouldn’t usually reach
with the help of your pupils.

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