What does it take to be a world-class teacher?

February 21, 2018 by Minerva Tutors,

A teacher from Brent has been nominated in the top 10 best teachers in the Global Teacher Prize, organised by the Varkey Foundation, with the winner to receive $1m (£720,000). The finalists have been drawn from more than 30,000 nominations in 173 countries.

Mrs. Zafirakou in her classroom – photo from BBC News


What’s the award?

The competition is intended to raise the status of the teaching profession, and when announcing the finalists, Bill Gates pointed to the importance of their work.

“When you think about what drives progress and improvement in the world, education is like a master switch – one that opens up all sorts of opportunities for individuals and societies. Said Mr Gates. “And research has shown that having a great teacher can be the most important factor that determines whether students get a great education.”

Previous Global Teacher Prize finalists

Sunny Varkey, whose foundation set up the annual international teacher prize, said he wanted the finalists’ stories to “inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession” and to “shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do”.


What does it take to be a world-class teacher?

Mrs Andria Zafirakou is an art and textiles teacher from Alperton Community School in north London. She has been nominated for her work with deprived pupils, working with their families at home as well as in the classroom. ‘Inspiring’ would be something of an understatement for the level of dedication she has shown her students.

After finding out that many were struggling with various aspects of their home lives, Mrs Zafirakou went out of her way to help in whatever ways possible, frequently going above and beyond for her students. She said: “I’ve had students tell me they have to do their homework in the bathroom, just to grab a few moments alone so they can concentrate… Others could not participate in extra-curricular activities after school because they had to take on parental responsibilities like collecting their brothers and sisters from other schools.”

Andria Zafirakou with some of her students (BBC News)

So what does a world-class teacher do? She has organised extra lessons during the day and the weekend, including giving pupils a quiet place to work. She’s learnt basic phrases in the 35 languages spoken by pupils at the school, as well as helping other teachers work with other services, such as local police and mental health providers.


What did the nominations say?

Several people who put Mrs. Zafirakou forward for the award were (unsurprisingly) glowing about her qualities as a teacher, leader and individual:

“I am submitting a nomination for a teacher who is a true gem, one who inspires such possibility and potential in her students, their parents, the staff, her peers, the local community, and future teachers and leaders.”

“A phenomenal teacher and leader. She is guided by a moral compass that underpins a passionate desire to give every student at her school the world – no ceilings, no limitations, no boundaries.”

“She is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to ensuring that students deserve the best education possible.”

“One lady with care and passion can make a huge difference to the lives of many. She is upbeat, full of character, highly regarded and I wish all schools were blessed with a senior leader such as her!”

Don’t we all wish that, anonymous fan of Andria Zafirakou.


Favourite teachers?

In the spirit of teacher-appreciation, we asked a couple of Minerva employees to talk about their favourite teacher, and what makes them so special.

Scott, Client Manager: Paul Tully, 6th form Drama teacher.

“We all really liked our other drama teacher, and on our first day of 6th form we were told we would have another one.  This really serious looking, well-dressed man with slicked back hair walks through the door, and we all thought ‘oh god, he does not seem fun’ – boy did we think wrong!

The depth of drama and theatre he went into was mind blowing – he taught us things that I never thought I would be taught. He introduced me the Stanislavski method of ’emotional recall’ or ’emotion memory,’ which had a huge effect on how I thought about acting. He was always about reality and how ‘real’ acting has to be which was so important. If he didn’t believe you he would make you do it again but approach it in a different way. His methods were just very inspiring. He made me love acting and performance even more than I already, and he had a huge effect on my confidence in general, which has helped me immensely on my path as a musician.

He ended up teaching us far more than just drama and acting skills.”


Emily, Head Tutor: Mr Wright, History teacher.

“Mr Wright was undoubtedly my favourite ever teacher. He was my History teacher throughout secondary school, and was the sole reason that I studied History at A Level. He was very dynamic, and had a wonderful way of explaining things. He would use jokes (Who invented the steam engine? Watt is the answer! I know Watt wasn’t the first inventor, but Mr Wright was so proud of himself!), and there was one particularly memorable lesson where we sang all of our responses, because ‘the world would be a much livelier place if we all sang instead of talked’. Aside from these fun things, he always marked our books really well, and knew each of us in the class as an individual, which I really appreciated, as the oft-forgotten quiet girl in the corner! He cared about our work, and he was always genuinely enthused about the subject that he taught (even if sometimes I suspect he rather over-acted it, as a way to get us excited about the subject). This enthusiasm was contagious, and helped us all to get more involved in our work.”


By David Bard


David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.

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