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The Global Teacher Prize: A Message of Respect

By: Joseph Fatheree

It was around this time a year ago that I found myself sitting in attendance at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession listening to the world's education leaders discussing the pressing issues of the day. I was one of six teachers that had been invited by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to attend the meeting as an official delegate. One of the main themes of the event was teacher efficacy. During one of the sessions, Andreas Schleicher, OECD's Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, shared the results of the TALIS Report. The findings were concerning as more and more teachers around the world were growing dissatisfied.  Everyone in attendance agreed this was an issue. However, no resolutions were made. As a teacher, I left Alberta, Canada discouraged that public support for education and teacher moral was at an all time low. 


It's amazing how quickly things can change if the right energy gets behind a movement.  Approximately a year later I found myself sitting in a very different place on a stage in Dubai at the 2016 Global Education & Skills Forum.  I had recently been recognized as one of the Top Ten Teachers in the World by the Varkey Foundation and was waiting for the recipient of the Global Teacher Prize to be named. Around four years ago, educational entrepreneur Sunny Varkey recognized that a lack of respect of teachers was one of the central issues that had led to the growing teacher recruitment and retention issues that were plaguing almost every country on the earth.  He decided to do something about it.  His foundation established the Global Teacher Prize an award that has become known as the Nobel Prize of Teaching. Sunny Varkey's vision is helping transform how the world views teachers and how we see ourselves. 

We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do in order to elevate the profession to its rightful place.  However, this past weekend gave me hope. I witnessed the beginning of a movement that can transform the teaching profession.  It began with respect-a word that teachers have been waiting to hear for a long time. Thank you Varkey Foundation for the respect you have shown the teaching profession and the work you are doing to transform the world. In just two short years the Varkey Foundation has created such a buzz with its #teachersmatter campaign and the Global Teacher Prize that untold numbers of people from around the world tuned in online the evening of March 13, to watch the crowning of the award.  The audience was not disappointed as Pope Francis named Hanan Al Hroub, an elementary school teacher from Palestine, the recipient of the 2016 Global Teacher Prize.  What they were not prepared for was the act of solidarity that took place at the conclusion of her speech. It was at that moment in time when Hanan Al Hroub gracefully walked across the stage and joined hands with the other finalists.  Together we raised our hands in honor of teachers around the world. The auditorium was filled with applause.  It was the sound of something that has been missing for years; the sound of respect.  

Joseph Fatheree was a Top 10 Finalist for the 2016 Global Teacher Prize, a recipient of the NEA's National Award for Teaching Excellence, and a former Illinois Teacher of the Year.  He is the instructor of creativity and innovation at Effingham High School, and serves as the Director of Strategic Projects for the National Network of State Teachers of the Year [NNSTOY].  He is also a Varkey Teacher Ambassador. 


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