No-one gets into teaching to get a million dollars.
Of the tens of millions of educators in the world who dedicate their lives to helping people learn, only a handful will ever be formally recognised as 'the best teacher in the world'. Andria Zafirakou is one of them. The Arts and Textiles teacher from Alperton Community School in London won the coveted Global Teacher Prize in 2018 and was awarded $1m.
But it was never about winning a prize. Or even about being recognised as 'the best'. At least not in the eyes of anyone but her own students. It was about making a difference. About being the positive force in the lives of her students, for whom just making it to school was often an achievement in itself. It was about being someone who really cared and wanted to help them become the very best they could be.
In an education system increasingly obsessed with academic grades and 'attainment', Zafirakou's success reminds us what is actually important in the lives of young people. She focused on what really mattered to them. To be someone that listened. Who understood. Who they could trust. No-one told her to learn how to greet her students in the 35 languages they spoke. No teacher assessment form encouraged her to visit her pupil's homes to understand their circumstances and to meet their families. But she knew that was what would really make a difference to their lives. Their grades mattered, but their happiness and self-confidence mattered far more.
For the thousands of students taught by Zafirakou, the truth is, few will remember the trophy she won, the accolades she received or even the $1m prize money she donated to 'Artists in Residence', the arts education charity she established. What they will remember is the only thing that ever really mattered to Zafirakou in the first place. That she made an indelible impression on them that will be with them for the rest of their lives.