North London resident Andria Zafirakou has been announced as the first British winner for the world’s best teacher.
Andria is an arts and textiles teacher from Alperton community school in Brent, north-west London. She was presented with the fourth annual Varkey Foundation Global Teacher prize in Dubai on Sunday, March 18th. Andria was also awarded prize money worth $1 million or roughly £720,000.
She received the honor at a ceremony attended by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Tony Blair, and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.
Andria told reporters, “I was shocked. I was completely overwhelmed. I didn’t realize it was me.”
She added that teachers in the UK “work extremely hard,” that “this award goes out to all of us.”
When asked about what she will do with the prize money, she said: “I’m going to be patient, I’m going to reflect, but as you know it I think it would be really fantastic if I could think about how the arts could be celebrated even further within our school community.”
Andria believes in the power of the arts, and says that schools can make a positive difference in children’s lives through creative projects.
“I have seen how the arts help students to communicate. The arts help to give so much confidence and really create incredible young people.”
Andria teaches at Alperton community school, which is one of the poorest areas of the country. Students come from a variety of languages, and about 130 are spoken in their locality.
Andria wanted to make more of an effort to connect with her students, so she learned basic phrases in their languages including Gujarati, Hindi, and Tamil.
She’s also visited the homes and met the families of most of her students. “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,” Andria shared.
When she learned about the home situations of some students, she organized extra lessons during the day and the weekend so the kids could have a quiet place to work.
Andria also redesigned the curriculum with fellow teachers to make it more relatable for their students. She also helped set up girls-only sports clubs for those from conservative families.
Aside from Andria’s award and $1 million prize, she will also be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation.
She will be required to remain working as a classroom teacher for at least five years and will be paid the prize money in installments.