An arts and textiles teacher from the UK who learned the basics of 35 different languages to better connect with her students has been named winner of the 2018 Global Teacher Prize.
Andria Zafirakou from Alperton Community School in London was awarded the ‘Nobel Prize of Teaching' in Dubai overnight and received US $1 million for her outstanding contribution to the teaching profession.
Zafirakou says her calling in life is to make sure that every child reaches their full potential. And, while she strives to make this happen for every single student, her school community faces many significant challenges.
‘We are in an area where there is poverty and deprivation. Our students will experience gangs, they can see domestic violence – it's devastating,' she shares.
‘There is a gang culture outside of our school gates. We have individuals recruiting students or young people to get into their gangs. You can't let that come through the school gates. We have to make sure that we are protecting our students at all costs.'
This means Zafirakou will often be found outside of the school gates, helping students to board buses after school and making sure they make it home safely.
‘I absolutely love what I do, I can't imagine having any other job. They're my kids! I am a mum to about 1400 students,' she says.
There are approximately 35 different languages spoken in the school, and 85 per cent of students speak English as an additional language. In order to form better relationships with students, the educator learned the basics of each of these 35 languages.
‘It doesn't matter if you can't speak English, we are able to help them achieve and develop skills and confidence,' she says.
Outside of their formal classes, Zafirakou has also introduced a boxing club to the school.
‘This is an opportunity for students just to channel some of that steam in a safe way, in a controlled way, which will hopefully prevent them from doing it outside of school.
‘It allows them to have a great time, really getting physical, growing their self-esteem, growing their confidence, this also helps them not being out on the streets in the evening.'
The school has seen many improvements over the past few years. Alperton Community School is now in the top five per cent of schools in England and Wales for improving pupils' achievement. It is also one of fewer than 10 UK schools to win the prestigious Quality Mark Platinum Award.
During her speech at the award ceremony overnight, Zafirakou used the global stage to share her thoughts on the importance of arts education.
‘I am proud to be an art and textiles teacher. The arts have to fight for space in the curriculum and for funding. They are often the first budgets to be cut, this is so wrong.
‘The arts teach students how to think creatively, which will be important for the jobs they are likely to do when they leave school. They also teach resilience and that perseverance can pay off. For my students, the arts provide a sanctuary, a place where they can safely express themselves and connect with their identity.
‘We know that students who spend more time on the arts become more successful at the rest of their studies too – my students are evidence of this.'
Visit www.globalteacherprize.org to find out more about The Global Teacher prize.