Ms Atwell, an English teacher from Maine, was nominated the best among 10 finalists in the Global Teacher Prize contest last Sunday in Dubia. Ms Atwell, who is an accomplished author (one of her books, “In The Middle”, sold over half a million copies) was recognised for her work in teaching reading and writing.
Jacque Kahura from Kenya was the only African among the finalists.
While receiving the award, Ms. Atwell said working as a teacher to help young people read and write was a privilege.
On receiving the award she announced that she was donating the prize money to a school she founded.
She said donating the money to the school was “not being selfless, but being committed to public service”.
The beneficiary school, the Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, Maine, was founded by Ms Atwell in 1990, as a place where ideas improving the teaching of reading and writing could be tested and shared.
The school has a library in every room and encourages students to read about 40 books a year.
The award was created by the Varkey Foundation and aimed at recognising teachers as much as high paying careers in sports and finance.
“We introduced the prize in order to return teachers to their rightful position, belonging to one of the most respected professions in society,” said Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation.
He said the prize is “not only about money, it’s also about unearthing thousands of stories of inspiration”.
Former US president, Bill Clinton, who was at the event, said the prize was important as it would help to remind the public of the importance of teachers.
He said it is “critically important” to “attract the best people into teaching” and to hold them in “high regard”.
Andreas Schleicher, Education Director of the OECD said the prize will help to underscore the value of teaching.
“Where teachers feel that society values their job, outcomes can be a lot better,” he said
The prize was supported by the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai.
The African Star
Ms Kahura, the only African in the top ten, comes from a family of teachers and showed interest in teaching from when she was a child. She is the founder of LIBA (Lifting the Barrier), which helps young disadvantaged pupil learn in a better environment.
Her novel approach to teaching involves learning in small groups. It also involves field trips that help to raise her pupils’ consciousness to the environment.
She also encourages her pupils to undertake community services. Many of her pupils outperform their peers in traditional schools that rely heavily on written tests.
Among the finalists is Stephen Ritz of South Bronx in New York who developed a project of growing food in the inner city to provide students with the nutrition to help them learn well.
There is also Phalla Neang from Cambodia who helped to develop a Braille version of the Khmer language so that blind students can read. She also works to prevent blind students from being treated as outcasts by the education system.