Londoner crowned world’s best teacher for learning 35 languages her pupils speak

The best teacher in the world works her magic at a secondary school in north west London.

Andria Zafirakou, who teaches at Alperton Community School, has won the prestigious Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize.

The award, which recognises a teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession, has a prize of $1 million (about £715,000).

And the 39-year-old is a worthy winner – she has guided youngsters from one of the poorest areas of the country and helped pupils from a variety of backgrounds.

This included learning basic greetings in many of the 35 languages spoken at the school, including Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and Portuguese, to help parents feel welcome and included.

Ms Zafirakou, the first British teacher to be awarded the prize, paid tribute to the power of the arts after being named the winner.

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She said: ‘I was shocked. I was completely overwhelmed. I didn’t realise it was me.’

She said teachers in the UK ‘work extremely hard’, adding: ‘This award goes out to all of us.’

Asked what she will do with the prize money, she said: ‘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.’

Theresa May congratulated Ms Zafirakou in a video message played during the glittering ceremony in Dubai.

The prime minister said: ‘You have shown enormous dedication and creativity in your work.

‘Being a great teacher requires resilience, ingenuity and a generous heart.

‘These are the qualities that you share with your students every day. So, thank you for all you have done and continue to do.’

In her 12 years at Alperton, Ms Zafirakou has redesigned the curriculum with fellow teachers to make it relevant to pupils, helped set up girls-only sports clubs for those from conservative communities, and is also known for taking the time to understand students’ lives by visiting their homes and even joining them on the bus.

When she reached the top 10, she revealed the hardship faced by students, many of whom come from ‘crowded homes’ and were being forced to ‘play truant to cook meals’.

She said: ‘Others could not participate in extracurricular activities after school because they had to take on parental responsibilities like collecting their brothers and sisters from other schools.

‘Discovering all this prompted me to organise additional provision within the school day and often at weekends to help students have the opportunity to progress.

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‘This included giving them access to a quiet place to do their art work, as well as time to participate in extracurricular activities.’

She will now be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation, which will involve working as a classroom teacher for at least five more years while her prize money is paid in installments.

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