The Global Teacher Prize Takes New York!
On 28 June, the world’s best teacher watched her name go up in lights in New York’s Times Square.
Global Teacher Prize winner Maggie MacDonnell laughed and pointed as her name appeared in letters eight-feet high on the video tower of Nasdaq’s MarketSite building. Then she hugged two of her students who’d joined her on the long journey that had taken her from the tiny village of Salluit, nestled in the far north of the Canadian Artic, to the Big Apple.
It was a moment to treasure. But getting there had taken Maggie, who grew up in Canada’s rural Nova Scotia, years of hard work and sacrifice in some of the most difficult teaching conditions in the world.
Teaching At The End Of The World
Salluit lies so far north that you’ll run out of road long before you get there. The 1,300 Inuit people who live in the village work hard to live in dignity, but face social isolation and economic deprivation. Decades of discrimination against Canada’s indigenous peoples weigh heavily on the community.
That’s taken a heavy toll on Salluit’s young people. A disproportionate number have taken their own lives, while girls also face discriminatory attitudes, high levels of teenage pregnancies and even sexual violence. High teacher turnover and a lack of consistent leadership mean that the village’s school has struggled to give its students a good education.
Since coming to Salluit seven years ago, Maggie has worked tirelessly on behalf of her adopted community, and as teacher, mentor and even temporary foster parent to her students. Like many teachers, for many years her work went largely unnoticed and uncelebrated outside her small community.
A Big Moment In The Big Apple
Everything changed last March, when Maggie lifted the Global Teacher Prize to a standing ovation at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai – after learning that she’d won from an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
The prize has brought Maggie’s story, and those of her students, to international attention. When, in June, she visited New York to talk about how teachers can transform the lives of their students, the prize helped open the doors of some of the city’s world-famous landmarks and most lauded institutions.
Maggie addressed business titans like Nasdaq Stock Market, HSBC and Goldman Sachs. She stood on the newsroom of The Wall Street Journal and spoke at the Foreign Policy Association and The New York Academy of Sciences.
During her time in New York, Maggie also spoke with leaders from the world of education, development and philanthropy, among them Teach For All CEO Wendy Kopp and even former President Bill Clinton.
Maggie talked about Salluit village and the suicide crisis engulfing her students. She talked about how she had taught life skills in a village that can only be reached by plane. And she talked about what she had learned from a community that had come together to survive, heal and learn.
Maggie’s message was always very simple: Teachers matter.
I went to the Arctic very humble. Teachers don't teach at students, they teach with them.
Maggie MacDonnell, meeting with Teach For All CEO Wendy Kopp
Talking Teaching At The United Nations
On 28 June, Maggie addressed diplomats and high-ranking officials at UN Headquarters, at a high-level panel on innovation in education moderated by The Varkey Foundation CEO Vikas Pota.
“We have iPads in the class, we have smartboards, but I’m the greatest resource in that classroom,” she said. “And if we talk about innovation it has to be about investing in teachers constantly.”
She repeated that message later that same evening, at a reception at the UN on how the world can meet the global target of achieving education for all by the year 2030, organized by The Varkey Foundation.
“Teachers matter,” she said. “We matter. And together we can address the global education crisis.”
New York’s Finest
The most magical moments in Maggie's journey came when she met some of New York’s finest teachers and their students.
“There is a spirit of hope and belief that resonates from Maggie MacDonnell… that inspires children to see their possibilities,” Mott Hall Bridges Academy Principal Nadia Lopez tweeted after the Global Teacher Prize winner visited her school on 27 June.
Nadia, herself a Global Teacher Prize finalist, founded the academy in 2010 to give children in Brownsville a route out of violence and poverty that affects the area where they live.
“The [Inuit] community is incredibly forgiving,” Maggie told pupils and staff at the academy, “No one is healed until everyone is healed.”
The same day, Maggie also met Bronx teacher Stephen Ritz, who has used urban farming to turn his student community into a family – and harvest over 40,000 pounds of vegetables in the process.
“She’s working under herculean conditions to change people, to change lives,” Stephen Ritz said, in an interview with WeAreTeachers. “She’s a rock star.”
She's a rock star.
Stephen Ritz on Maggie MacDonnell, in an interview with WeAreTeachers
The Global Teacher Prize Family
The Varkey Foundation created the Global Teacher Prize to celebrate the work of extraordinary teachers just like Maggie, Nadia and Stephen. Their work isn’t only changing their local communities. It’s changing the way people think about teaching.
For Maggie, the prize has been an opportunity to tell the world about Salluit village and the courage and resilience of the community who live there. But she’s also eager for the Global Teacher Prize family to grow.
“They say I’m the world’s best teacher. I say I’m just the world’s luckiest teacher,” she’s said time and time again, “The world’s best teacher is still out there.”
Teachers matter. And, for a New York minute last week, those words were on the lips of one the greatest cities in the world.
If you know a teacher like Maggie, why not nominate them for next year’s Global Teacher Prize?