We love talking about those inspiring learning in young people, so we were particularly excited to read this article about the London teacher named best in the world earlier this year. Andria Zafirakou is an art teacher with an unconventional approach; a departure from the more common strategy of teaching core subjects with rigorous structure and discipline. Here she talks to Decca Aitkenhead at The Guardian on celebrating the diversity among her pupils, and understanding them as individuals to achieve more than just standardised test results.
After the London art teacher won her $1m prize, she was showered with praise by Theresa May and the education secretary – but she is exactly the kind of teacher this government actively discourages.
Making The Grade
Andria Zafirakou has been functioning on three hours’ sleep a night for weeks, but looks radiant. “It’s adrenaline, it’s excitement, it’s everything.” Nominated by current and former colleagues for the Varkey Foundation’s annual Global Teacher prize, dubbed the Nobel for teaching, last month Zafirakou learned she had been shortlisted from a field of more than 30,000 entries. She flew out to Dubai last week to join nine other finalists from all over the world for a star-studded awards ceremony hosted by Trevor Noah, and arrived home on Wednesday the winner of the $1m prize. The nominees were judged on, among other things, the progress made by pupils, achievements outside the classroom and in helping children become “global citizens”.
“I have no problem with expecting the same from these kids as we do of kids from Eton. No problem. But did these kids have a breakfast in the morning? Did these kids watch their mum and dad beating each other up? So for me, a success for some of our children is: ‘He came into school, oh my God, he came into school.’ It’s great to say every child should have the same potential, but you need to know the personal background and the lives of your children, and how different and complex they are.”Zafirakou takes great exception to the popular view that multiculturalism is at best a big problem, at worst, a dangerously failed experiment, and that immigrant children will never integrate if schools accommodate their different cultural identities. “When they come into this huge, intimidating building, if you say to them ‘namaste’ or ‘vanakkam’, you see their faces light up. It means that you get them, that you’re interested in them, that you are welcoming them, and that you appreciate their identity, their background – and they glow. Then what happens there, you’ve got complete and utter engagement from the parents. They will come in whenever you want them. We have a 95% minimum turnout for parents’ evenings.”