So this is the first time I write in English for my blog. Big deal for me. But the reason is well worth the jump. (The Spanish version of this post can be found here, by the way).
Last December, Varkey GEMS Foundation published the list of the 50 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize. This award seeks to give merit to one “exceptional teacher”. With one million USD dollars, that is. Of course, the initiative, 2015 being its first edition, is already causing turmoil around the world, and is even being called the “Nobel Prize of Teaching”. One fortunate Teacher will take home the prize next March.
I feel so lucky and humbled to, somehow, have my name on this exceptional list, sharing the honor with other 49 teachers from 26 countries, each one of them with inspiring stories of passion and commitment for education. I am in awe.
So how did it all start for me?
It was somewhere in June last year, by the end of school, when I received an e-mail which stated that I had been nominated for the Global Teacher Prize. It had a link to a webpage that read:
“The Varkey Foundation launched the Global Teacher Prize to celebrate the best teachers around the world, those who inspire their students and the communities around them. The Global Teacher Award seeks to do for education what the Nobel Prize has done for science, literature, and peace. The focus is to uplift the valuable contributions that teachers make every day to establish a flourishing global society.”
After reading the information on that website I realised that any person could nominate any teacher, anywhere in the world. It was huge. A teacher could also nominate him or herself. Nominations were open and free. The next step after nomination was to complete an online application, with several questions that basically referred to our personal story as teachers, our achievements in educational innovation, global education, impact on community and overall contributions to the teaching profession. A recent photo was also requested, and there was the option of uploading a video.
I reviewed the information in great detail. Ok, I concede I was a little weary. I had never before heard anything about this prize. It seemed too good to be true. But if it was indeed true, it was also massive. I recognised the great potential for impact on the teaching profession worldwide. So I googled around and found strong evidence that this was, really, well, true. Oh. My.
My story is not important by itself. My story is just one among many that weave each other around what it means to be a teacher. But my story, as well as the much greater stories of my fellow finalists, gives this prize a human face, -50 faces, actually- a blow of living breath to the real story behind: Varkey Foundation is out to make the teaching profession one of the most prestigious around the world.
It is vastly said that teachers are “key” in society. At least from the lips out, nobody could doubt that educators are truly important. But in reality, being a teacher is not exactly what many people have in mind when they think about a successful career. Like being a doctor, or a lawyer. Well, at least in my home country, Mexico.
I did not dream about becoming a teacher myself. Oh yes, of course, in my childhood play I was often a teacher. A good one. I sat all my dolls in a perfectly lined little classroom made with blankets and pillows, and “taught them to read”. Oh, what a beauty. My perfect plastic students were always smiling, always paying attention, and yes sir, always quiet. Well, it was kind of boring too. I wished that my dolls could come alive and misbehave a little. Just a little.
But then I grew up. Fast. And by the end of High School, I was contemplating a different career path. “I want to be a writer”, I told anyone who cared to ask the perennial question: What are you going to do? So I wanted to study literature. And become a poet, a novelist. Well, you can guess the reaction. “Being a writer is difficult. You are going to starve to death. And just about a second before perishing of hunger, you will have to become a teacher, you will teach Spanish in a obscure and forgotten school somewhere”.
“You will have to become a Teacher”. Like some kind of punishment for failure. They said this as if it was a death sentence, but trying to make it sound as a well-intended warning about an inevitable deception. But hey, the interesting thing here is not that they thought that making a living as a writer was difficult. We all know that. The interesting thing is that they saw teaching as a direct result from mediocrity.
Well, life took me on a hilly, curvy road. Oddly enough, first I became a teacher, and then, precisely because I was a teacher, I became a writer.
In my youth, one of my poetry books was published. I even won a national poetry contest. My poems were included in a handful of anthologies. But no, I was not able to make a living out of my writing. At least not then.
My road to teaching was sort of accidental. When I became a mother, I got a deep longing for teaching my children about all the beautiful things in our world. Art, music, books, culture. I have always been an avid reader, and I yearned for my kids to derive joy from a good book. So my children became my first students, and, may I say, my first teachers -on how to teach. As they got older, I was not able to find in my hometown the kind of school I had envisioned for them. So I founded my own. And that is how Colegio Valle de Filadelfia was born.
From my childhood bedroom with the quiet dolls, I moved to my living room with eventually three chatty, adventurous little ones, and later to the real classroom: preschool, elementary, junior high. My school grew alongside my children. I grew as well, as a teacher. Valle de Filadelfia extended to other Mexican cities and even to another country: Costa Rica.
Years went by, and many projects took shape. When our secondary school opened, I began to teach History and Geography, and for that purpose I created a complete series of online curricula and materials -in a flipped classroom manner. From the very beginning, these resources have been freely available for teachers and students from all over the country. All the videos are posted on YouTube, and all the materials can be downloaded from our school’s website. Today I teach technology to 8th and 9th graders. It’s so much fun to learn alongside them. From producing videos to designing websites to experimenting with apps and video games, we are all having a blast.
One of my most beloved projects has been creating an early education curriculum to focus on reading, writing and growing up global. Beginning in Preschool, our children explore a different culture or country every month. This same project includes opportunities to discover and enjoy diverse art and music. At school, our kids learn to play the violin, to paint, as they also embark in different workshops according to their interests.
In 2014, after seven years of knocking on several publisher’s doors, Pearson Education Mexico published my series of textbooks for preschoolers and their educators. A total of 12 books were born last summer. I could never have achieved this without the experience gained after years of teaching. The books are now in several Latin American countries, and we even shipped some to Spain.
Becoming a Finalist
It took me some time to finally complete the application for the Prize. In fact, I almost missed it. It is not that I wasn’t excited: I was. But it still seemed so unreal. And seriously, I didn’t really think I had a shot. Well, I would be lying if I said I had absolute no hope of at least squeezing myself into the finalists. It felt like buying a lottery ticket, you know? You realise there is a faintly slim chance that you can actually win it. But you buy it anyway. And then forget about it.
I bought my ticket.
Some weeks went by. Then, one bright, lucky Saturday, mid-November, I got another e-mail. “You have been selected from thousands of applications from around the world as one of our Top 50 finalists”
I think I barely regained consciousness one full day after reading those lines. Even now, two months later, I still find it hard to believe. I check on my profile on the Global Teacher Prize website somewhat often, just to make sure it is still there. And then I read the other profiles. And get inspired. I have my personal favourites, but I admire them all. Overall, I respect them greatly. I am so grateful just to be able to have my name and my picture in the same place as theirs.
The 50 finalists were announced on December 8th. When all the names and countries represented came to light, I was very surprised to find myself as the only Hispanic American teacher among the finalists. I can only believe that, being this the first time that the Prize is given, many great teachers out there were not lucky enough to find about this award. And that is something I would love to see changed: Hopefully in 2016 and the years to come we will have greater latino representation.
So what’s next?
Exciting road ahead. In February, the Global Teacher Prize Committee will announce ten finalists out of the top 50, who will have the opportunity of a lifetime: they will fly to Dubai to attend the Global Education and Skills Forum 2015. There, on March 16, the winner of the Global Teacher Prize will be unveiled.
Don’t even ask. Of course I’m dying to go to Dubai. And I know the chances are as slim as they could be. But the greatest thing has already happened, and is still happening: Varkey Foundation has started a global movement on behalf of Teachers around the world. Maybe we can achieve the cultural and economic changes needed to uplift the teaching profession to the skies. Maybe we will be able to raise the quality standards for educators, maybe becoming a Teacher will be seen as success instead of failure.
I am grateful to the wonderful, international community of teachers, parents, educators, children and youth with whom I’ve had the privilege to share the road. I have been inspired by them, taught by them, challenged by them. I have grown as a result of meeting them. Teaching is learning twice, and certainly I have received much more than what I have given.
I also want to thank Pearson Education Mexico: thank you so much for believing in this global learning project, and for granting me a space among your authors, when so many others closed the doors on me. Thanks to all the editorial team with whom I have been fortunate to work in developing these books: you have been my mentors and my friends.
Thank you, friends and colleagues at The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. You have given me the opportunity to work with brain injured children and their heroic families. They are the bravest people on earth, and you are their guardian angels.
To all the teachers who have dedicated their enthusiasm and life in any of our six schools, to all the children that have enlightened our classrooms, to all the parents that have trusted us with what they hold dearest, to my beloved family and friends, thank you.
What a privilege it is to be able to nourish the minds and souls of our young ones.
If every child has a seed of genius, then every teacher has the potential of an artist.
Follow the 50 finalists on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TeacherPrize and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/teacherprize
Read an article by ShareAmerica: “This teacher in México, who has the heart of a poet, could win $ 1 million”
Global Teacher Prize has a YouTube channel for sharing inspiring stories about teachers and education. They have kindly posted a video with my reflections upon becoming a finalist: