A teacher can be the difference between indifference and inspiration, between failure and future. As William Arthur Ward put it: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”And so it goes without saying that teachers who make a significant difference in the lives of their students deserve to be celebrated.

That’s where the Varkey Foundation comes in.

In 2013, the foundation began gathering concrete evidence to provide a holistic picture of how teachers are viewed across the globe. Once a year, one exceptional teacher receives its Global Teacher Prize. Last year, Hanan Al Hroub from Palestine won the $1 million award for her outstanding contribution of easing the tense environments of Palestinian classrooms and urging her students to embrace the slogan “No to Violence.”

Read More: This Palestinian teacher is saying no to violence and yes to learning and peace

Al Hroub’s lessons go beyond the classroom and hers are not the only ones to do so.

Here are ten more finalists and inspirational teachers around the world transforming education and the classroom experience as we know it.

1. Maggie MacDonnell, Canada

The region of Nunavik is considered to be in the midst of a suicide crisis right now, according to many activists. For the last six years, MacDonnell has been a teacher in the out-of-reach Inuit village of Salluit, the second northernmost community of its kind in Quebec. A place plagued by the traumas of colonialism, MacDonnell has attended one too many of her students’ funerals. She started initiatives to counter this despair, including a running club, suicide prevention training, and a life skills program for girls coping with teenage pregnancies and sexual abuse in her community. “I think so many people come to the Arctic, and they come here and they’re mesmerized by the land,” MacDonnell said. “But what has always inspired me is the youth that I work with — I really believe they’re the true Northern Lights.”

2. Michael Wamaya, Kenya

Among struggle and strife in the heart of the Kibera slum in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, there is a growing ballet school. Wamaya, a dance teacher from humble beginnings, established the alternative arts project to encourage pride and self-awareness among vulnerable youth. With his guidance, some students performed The Nutcracker at the Kenya National Theatre, while others have become accomplished dancers, winning scholarships for higher education.

Read More: 7 myths about teachers

3. Salima Begum, Pakistan

“Learn for 24 hours, not for 6 hours” has always been Begum’s vision, said one of the many young girls that Begum has financially helped through school. She teaches at the Elementary College for Women in Gilgit, Pakistan and instructs more than 7,000 teachers across her province, and 8,000 more throughout the country. Begum engages her students in activities that can be carried outside of the classroom in an effort to teach girls in her community that “learning is continuous.”

4. David Calle, Spain

The founder and creator of the Unicoos website — an innovative educational video resource — Calle has helped over 30 million students in the Hispanic world learn. With more than 700,000 subscribers on Youtube, it is the largest education channel in Spain and recently received the Bitacora award for “YouTuber of The Year.”

5. Tracy-Ann Hall, Jamaica

“Here is a woman in a man’s world,” said Daphne Clayton, Chair of Governors at Jonathan Grant High School, about Hall. Trained as an automotive technician before becoming a teacher, Hall teaches students the skills to be mechanics and global citizens. “I ensure that my students become global citizens in different ways,” she said. She started a program for her class to feed street people, build sidewalks, launch a junior automotive club, and work on the school magazine. She has partnered with two automotive companies to ensure economic opportunities for her students who are generally from economically disadvantaged communities.

Read More: Hamara, 12, Dreams of Teaching Afghan Girls

6. Raymond Chambers, UK

Computer Science can be dull if presented the wrong way. But students at Brooke Weston Academy in Corby, England don’t have to worry about that. As an ICT specialist, Chambers has developed new software for learning using Microsoft Kinect, and his methods have become an international success. His YouTube channel now has more than 250,000 hits and helped BBC write the Microbit Quick Start Guide for teachers to get more students involved in computer programming. He brought four students to Belgium in 2014 where they got second place in the Kodu Kup, a competition that challenges students to develop their own games.  

7. Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahromi, Germany

“Sportpatenproject” is the action-oriented learning method and mentoring program that Jahromi uses to teach her students about the importance of self-confidence and empathy. Action-oriented, the method involves sports like skateboarding to engage students who come from all over the world. Her project has helped both German students and refugee children from Afghanistan and Syria to learn from each other. “We want each kid to see each culture as wonderful,” she said. Since 2012, the program has taught over 150 students.

8. Boya Yang, China

Both a teacher and a psychologist, Boya offers guidance to students and their parents —  a largely unprecedented move. She comes from a long tradition of teaching — her parents and grandparents were all teachers. Boya draws on this background in the classroom by incorporating games, music, opera, and drama into her lessons, instilling in students a passion to learn. Additionally, she has set up a center in her school for vulnerable students — specifically teenage girls — to seek advice from professionals.

Read More: 7 Groups Working to Educate the World

9. Wemerson da Silva Nogueira, Brazil

Nova Venecia, Brazil is a community where violence is high, where studying is not a priority. Da Silva Nogueria’s school, in particular, had a dropout rate of 50%. That is, until he came in with a hugely influential social project . “Young Scientists: Designing a New Future” enabled the school to save 90% of its students from drugs and crime. One of their projects involved an innovative way of studying the periodic table through sampling the polluted mud and waters of the Rio Doce and building a clean water filter for the community. Today, the school is considered the best in the city.

10. Ken Silburn, Australia

“Because Mr. Silburn is doing science, a lot more people are choosing science,” said one of his students. The first and only one his family to go to college, in 2015 Silburn was awarded the highest teaching honor of its type in Australia, the Prime Minister’s Prize for Secondary Science Teaching. He has delivered science workshops and training courses all across the world, including in India, and has recorded online lessons for India’s National Institute for Open Schooling. One of his classes was ranked first in Australia in their category of the International Science Championships and another student won the “The Right Stuff” Award at NASA’s space camp. By using a proactive approach of teaching environmental science and sustainability, it’s his hope that he inspires the next generation to overcome the challenges that climate change presents.


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10 Inspirational Teachers Who Are Transforming Education

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