A London educator of Greek Cypriot origin has been named the world’s best teacher, winning a prize of $1 million (€815,300) and receiving congratulations from leaders around the globe.
Andria Zafirakou, an art teacher from an Alperton school in Brent, north-west London, was presented with the fourth annual Varkey Foundation Global Teacher prize in Dubai on Sunday.
“I was shocked. I was completely overwhelmed. I didn’t realise it was me,” Zafirakou told reporters.
A video shows Zafirakou, sitting on stage among peers during the award ceremony in Dubai, to be surprised when Comedy Central’s Daily Show host Trevor Noah called out her name.
According to The Guardian, she is the first UK teacher to win the award.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, in a televised message during the ceremony, congratulated Zafirakou saying the award was a “fitting tribute” for the hard work.
The world’s best teacher didn’t have an answer on the ready when she was asked what she would do with the money prize.
“I’m going to be patient, I’m going to reflect, but as you know I think it would be really fantastic if I could think about how the arts could be celebrated even further within our school community,” she said.
“Whatever issues they are having at home, whatever is missing from their life or causing them pain, our school is theirs”
Zafirakou teaches in an Alperton community school, one of the poorest areas in the UK, where students come from a variety of backgrounds. About 130 languages are spoken in the Brent borough alone.
The best teacher is seen in a video greeting her students in many languages, using anything from “Namaste” to “Kalimera” as her pupils walk in to school.
She is known to being very friendly and open with her students, and she often visits their homes to maintain their motivation and connection to the school.
“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,” Zafirakou said.
Since many low-income homes can be crowded, Zafirakou thought she had to do something about It by giving extra lessons including weekends, thus giving students a quiet place to study.
“What is amazing is that whatever issues they are having at home, whatever is missing from their life or causing them pain, our school is theirs,” the teacher said.
Testimonials from her own pupils spoke of Zafirakou’s dedication and ability to inspire students.