Diversity creates 'buzzing' school life, says teacher in line for global prize

A teacher in the running for a million-dollar prize has said diversity in the classroom is a "beautiful challenge".

Andria Zafirakou, who works at Alperton Community School in Brent, north-west London, has been shortlisted for the fourth annual Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

The inner-city school is in one of the poorest areas of the country and pupils come from a variety of backgrounds.

Ms Zafirakou, an arts and textiles teacher, has learned how to say 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.

She 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.

Speaking ahead of the Global Teacher Prize award ceremony in Dubai on Sunday, Ms Zafirakou said having a classroom full of students from different backgrounds was "nothing but a good thing".

She told the Press Association: "I think it's a beautiful challenge.

"Because I think diversity is what makes our school so exciting and just buzzing - working with other students and watching them work with each other.

"It's really great for them to have this understanding of people's cultures, and also to start to figure out their own identities."

Ms Zafirakou, who has been at the same school for 12 years, worked in the art and design industry before becoming a teacher.

But she said she knew from a very young age that she would enter the profession, adding: "I think it's literally in my DNA."

The school community was "absolutely blown away" to find out in February that she was one of 10 teachers shortlisted for the award.

"They feel like they have somebody famous working in their school," Ms Zafirakou said.

"My school is quite unique in the sense that we're in London - a very deprived part of London - our children don't have the best home life situations.

"So when they see somebody like myself in this situation, they are really excited and I think they are so proud of me."

The other nine finalists, drawn from 30,000 entries from 173 countries, are from Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, Philippines, United States, Brazil, Belgium, Australia and Norway.

The winner, who will be revealed at the Global Education and Skills Forum, will receive 1 million US dollars (around £715,000) and be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation.

They will be required to remain working as a classroom teacher for at least five years and will be paid the prize money in equal instalments.

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