Teacher Spotlight: Tammy Perry

Sophie Drukman-Feldstein

Aug 11, 2021

Tammy Perry is a science teacher at Oxon Hill Middle School in Fort Washington, Maryland. She has been teaching middle and high school for over 22 years and has taught biology, physical science, earth science, chemistry, and math. At the school where she currently teaches, she is in charge of the Green Schools Program (a Maryland-based certification program for environmentally sustainable schools) and is one of the advisors for the National Junior Honor Society. She is also one of the teachers who helps out with Oxon Hill Middle School’s Green Team. She is a member of SubjectToClimate’s Teacher Taskforce. 



Do you teach about climate change? 


I do teach about climate change. I’ve been teaching it for over 20 years. 


Oftentimes, I will set up socratic debates in the classroom about whether climate change is a natural phenomenon or a man-made phenomenon. I will have my students research both ideas, and then we’ll do a debate on what they learned from their research. 


So yes, I talk about climate change a lot.


Why do you structure it as a debate?


I just want to prove to the students that it’s a real phenomenon and that we are contributing to climate change. I structure it that way for people that may say, “oh, well, I don’t believe in that.” To give them a better awakening that it’s real.


So making room for debate helps to draw people in who are climate deniers?


Yeah, having them research both sides and debate it clearly shows with science and data that this is a real problem.


What other kinds of approaches do you use when teaching about climate change?


I have been in charge of the Green School Program for ten years at the middle school I teach at. I’ve had my students involved in planting trees, and we’ve talked about why we need to plant trees.


Just recently, we participated in a virtual book contest with our National Junior Honor Society members. We had the Honor students write about social and environmental justice and how race plays a big part in quality of life. A lot of the students had no idea that this was going on. They were really into it. We were one of the national semifinalists for the top prize. We didn’t make it, but next year we’re going to expand on our environmental research. 


We have received a grant to create a reading garden at our school. We already have an outdoor classroom. I’ve been helping out with that outdoor classroom project since I’ve been at the school.


Right before Covid hit, we were preparing to create our reading garden. We were going to make chairs out of recycled tires. We were going to have the students create sculptures out of stuff that was left over from the home economics class many, many moons ago.


We had also talked about having a community library box where people can put books that they finished reading, so other people can read them. A lot of our students are into manga, so that would be a great way for our students to share manga that they’re no longer using. Or any other type of novel that they’re reading. 


This upcoming school year, now that we’re back in the building, we’re going to be working on our reading garden. We’re also looking at creating a possible research greenhouse for the students.


Also, in our seventh grade curriculum, our students have to do a service learning project. So, they grow wild rice, and they learn about the Chesapeake Bay and how this wild rice is necessary for the birds and other animals to survive. Basically, we grow the wild rice in the classroom, they do research on it, and then we go out to a research farm in Maryland. We actually go out there and plant it in the ponds and stuff.


Why is climate education important?


Because we only have one planet. If we’re not taking care of the planet, then who’s going to? Like Eminem says, you only get one shot. And people are like, “oh, we’ll go to space and colonize,” but it’s not that easy. So we need to take care of the Earth that we’re on. 


I feel like there’s been so much damage done, and maybe a lot of damage was done out of ignorance in the past. But I think at this point, in our age of knowledge at our fingertips, there’s no excuse. Everyone has the responsibility to make this planet better. 


We live in a global community. Even the little things that occur here, in America, can have ripple effects in other places. It’s important to be a global, responsible citizen.


Why do you focus on hands-on learning?


Because students tend to learn best hands-on. They will remember that hands-on activity. My students are like, “oh, I remember we planted the trees. I remember we went on this field trip.” There’s nothing like actually getting your hands dirty.


We have a really good STEM coordinator at our school, and she gets in a lot of great speakers. They got to talk to a real-live NASA astronaut. Because I mean, why not? We’re right in the D.C. area, and NASA headquarters are literally fifteen minutes from us. So, we had an astronaut come in and talk about how he went to space and all this other stuff, and they were just in awe. 


Little hands-on things are important. I feel like in our locality, there’s really no excuse. Because we’re really near the Smithsonian, we have so many resources at our fingertips. The hands-on learning is not an option, it’s a necessity for learning.


How did you adapt to being online?


Actually, I enjoyed it. I transferred a lot of what I did in the classroom online. I had my own website.


What do you see as the biggest barriers to climate education?


I would have to say time. The way the curriculum is set up, you’re only given so much time to talk about environmental changes, and then, boom! You move on to the next thing. Because of the national standards for each grade, you can’t really focus on just climate change. 


So, this is where the clubs come into play. Our National Junior Honor Society members have to also be part of the Green Team. They have to do a community service project. It’s extremely important to have those after school activities because of time constraints.


How do your students react emotionally to learning about climate change?


They’re adamant. They’re like, “wow, we really need to do better.” They really care. I have teenagers of my own who are like “oh, no, we have to recycle this.” But I remember when I was my daughter’s age, many, many moons ago, in the eighties, I was like “no, we gotta recycle.” I literally spent the summer organizing all these magazines. I was like, “I need you to take me to the recycling center. We need to recycle these magazines.” So it’s just something that’s always been within my spirit to do.


Back in my day, it wasn’t as prevalent. But I feel like the younger generation, they’re really into “yes, we need to make the planet better. Let’s be global citizens.” And I love that about this new group of students. I mean, they’ve been through Covid. They’ve just been through a lot of trauma. And so they’re really adamant about making a positive change in the world. Because they’ve seen so much go on.


What advice do you have for educators interested in teaching about climate change?


Don’t lecture. Have your students do something hands-on. Have them do a socratic debate. Actually get them involved. Have them do a community project, something that will help their community or their neighborhood. 


And have them think about things that they do in their everyday life, like, “What are you contributing in a negative way towards climate change? How are you helping to prevent it?” Have them be reflective. And talk about best practices— not only for them, but for their family and people in their community. 


Maybe have them create posters or make a video and put it on YouTube. Or do something on TikTok, you know, come up with a song. Just something creative to get people aware that climate change is really happening.


Why did you join the Teacher Taskforce?


I joined the Teacher Taskforce because it seemed fun. I had taken the EarthEcho Academy professional development course, and I heard about this opportunity. And I was like, “oh, this seems nice. I can work on my own, it’s environmental, and I can learn something.”


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