North London Teacher Becomes First UK Winner of the $1m International Teaching Award

Image: Twitter

A teacher from north London has been named the world’s best teacher and became the first ever UK winner of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize worth $1m (£720,000).

Andria Zafirakou works as an arts and textiles teacher at Alperton community school in Brent, north-west London. She was presented the fourth annual prize in Dubai on Sunday in front of Tony Blair, former US vice-president Al Gore and Lewis Hamilton amongst others.

Unable to attend the event in person, Prime Minister Theresa May sent a congratulatory video message broadcast at the ceremony:

“You have shown enormous dedication and creativity in your work. Being a great teacher requires resilience, ingenuity and a generous heart. These are the qualities that you share with your students every day. So, thank you for all you have done and continue to do.”

Accepting the award in Dubai on Sunday, Ms Zafirakou said, “I was shocked. I was completely overwhelmed. I didn’t realise it was me.” Adding that teachers around the UK ‘work extremely hard’ and that, “this award goes out to all of us.”

When interviewed by reporters afterwards and asked what she’d do with the prize money, she said although she would sit on it and be patient, she would think about how she could use some of the money to celebrate arts even more within her school in London having seen the great benefit it has on both her student’s learning and development.

One of the reasons behind her award-win was down to the additional effort she’d put in to build links within a very diverse school community. Alperton community school is in one of the poorest areas of the country. It’s been predicted that around 130 different languages are spoken in the borough of Brent, which offers its challenges to schools in the area.

Zafirakou learned basic greetings and phrases in various languages to help build relationships with her students and even offer home-visits to parent.

She said, “By getting pupils to open up about their home lives, I discovered that many of my students come from crowded homes where multiple families share a single property. It’s often so crowded and noisy I’ve had students tell me they have to do their homework in the bathroom, just to grab a few moments alone so they can concentrate.”

Going above and beyond her day-to-day role, Zafirakou organised additional lessons after school and at the weekend, as well as offering students the opportunity a place to work quietly which they might not get at home. As well as that she was commended for her to help children in the community within other services such as the police and mental health services.

She also sought to redesign the curriculum to be more appropriate for the specific needs and backgrounds of her students. And as well as that, she also introduced different extra-curricular opportunities such as girls-only sports for those from conservative backgrounds.

Ms Zafirakou was one of ten teachers shortlisted for this year’s award, beating 30,000 entrants from 173 different countries around the world. The other finalists invited to the ceremony this year were from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa and the US.

Speaking about the achievement, Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary said, “Andria’s story of selflessness and dedication is truly inspiring, and I am thrilled that she has received international recognition for her fantastic achievements. Great education is all about great people, and Andria embodies the huge difference teachers can make to children’s lives.”

Ms Zafirakou will now be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation: a foundation focussed on improving the standard of education for underprivileged children. She will receive the prize money in instalments and will be required to remain a classroom teacher for at least five years – not that should be a problem, based on what both she’s said and what’s been said about her.

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