At the chalkface: The world’s best teacher

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

Poverty wrecks lives. It is ubiquitous. Most of us, she says, “haven’t a clue about the depth of deprivation” she sees in her classroom every day...

London art teacher, Andria Zafiraku, is “the best teacher in the world”. Blimey. Who says? The Varkey Foundation. She’s just won their $1 million prize. Drat! I’ve been passed over yet again – and so have you.

Millions of us. All at least “world class”. How do you whittle us down to just one? In the whole wide world? Do we still need this myth of the super teacher? There are so many ways of being good at it. Couldn’t they have spread the money around more?

The ceremony, dubbed the Nobel of teaching, was held in Dubai. Why? Isn’t it a haven of unhinged capitalism, doubtful gender politics and very dodgy discipline? Should we be encouraging this sort of thing?

Or am I just an envious killjoy? Whatever, it’s not her fault she won. The girl done good and is clearly a sensational teacher. The prime minister and education secretary, not big fans of the profession, felt compelled to dish out lavish, if clichéd, praise. She is declared by Damian Hinds, “truly inspiring”. But here’s the thing.

Andria Zafiraku is exactly the kind of teacher our education system actively discourages. The Varkey Foundation’s criteria run counter to those of the government. It supports primarily underprivileged children. It rewards things like pupil progress, the extra-curricular and helping children become “global citizens”. I’m not sure quite what a “global citizen” is, but I suppose it’s better than Brexit.

Everything the government is keen on, Andria Zafiraku isn’t.

She loathes the whole measuring regime, is withering about the fashionable, macho culture of discipline and rigour, of shock and awe. She bitterly laments the trashing and trivializing of the arts and will be using much of her prize money to fund them.

“They are absolutely the life-skills that every child needs.” She thinks teachers’ pay is “disgusting”. Moreover she has no time for the pernicious view that it’s not poverty, but “poverty of expectations” that causes the poor to fail, that there is no significant difference between teaching at Eton or a run-down inner city school. She has no illusions. It is poverty.

Poverty wrecks lives. It is ubiquitous. Most of us, she says, “haven’t a clue about the depth of deprivation” she sees in her classroom every day. Yet she is optimistic, she still succeeds – “build trust with your pupils then everything else can happen”.

Andria Zafiraku is a perfect storm of rebellion. And isn’t this prize a mere sideshow? It changes nothing. There are millions of “world best” teachers out there. You. There is no tougher or more important job. You need to be trusted, recognised and properly paid, not fobbed off with million dollar baubles.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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