UK teacher wins $1M global teaching prize for inner city work

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A British school teacher won a highly-competitive $1 million teaching prize on Sunday for her work with inner-city children in London, helping students feel welcome and safe in a borough with one of the highest murder rates in the country.

Andria Zafirakou beat out some 30,000 applicants from around the world to win the annual Global Teacher Prize, which honors an exceptional teacher who’s made a significant contribution to the profession.

The Alperton Community School teacher was awarded for her work in the London borough of Brent, one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country. Her students come from some of the poorest families in Britain, and many of their parents don’t necessarily speak English.

She is the first British teacher to win the award.

British Prime Minister Theresa May sent her a video message praising her “enormous dedication and creativity.”

“Being a great teacher requires resilience, ingenuity and a generous heart,” the prime minister said. “These are the qualities that you share with your students every day. So thank you for all you have done and continue to do.”

Zafirakou praised the “beautiful” diversity of her school’s population and said the students are intense in their pursuit of an education.

“I know if our school could open at six o’clock in the morning, there would be a queue of children waiting outside at five o’clock,” she said. “That’s how phenomenal they are.”

She was awarded the prize during a star-studded ceremony Sunday in Dubai hosted by Trevor Noah of the “Daily Show.” Other celebrities at the event included Hollywood star Charlize Theron and Indian actress Priyanka Chopra.

The award is presented by the Varkey Foundation, whose founder, Sunny Varkey, established the for-profit GEMS Education company, which has more than 250 schools around the world.

Last year, Canadian teacher Maggie MacDonnell won the prize for her work with indigenous Inuit students in a remote Arctic village.