Teachers are the best influencers in the world and we need to celebrate them

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A blog by Anne Nicholls

On 23 September Dr Jamie Frost, a maths teacher from a west London school, made national news for reaching the finals of the Global Teacher Prize, run by the Varkey Foundation and UNESCO. His maths website for teachers and pupils – packed with free videos, resources and exam questions – went viral during lockdown with over seven million downloads across the world from Brazil to Bangladesh.

Uplifting stories like Jamie’s rarely make headline news. The media invariably prioritise education stories that are negative (teachers struggling with lockdown), controversial (fiasco over centre assessed grades) or tragic (teachers dying of Covid-19). The day-to-day work of teachers is simply seen as too worthy to get pulses racing.

However, there are some initiatives that are raising the profile of the teaching profession. As well as the Global Teacher Prize there are The Pearson National Teaching Awards, for schools and colleges which are normally televised on BBC2 in October. (This year it will almost certainly be a virtual event.) The other is the UNESCO  World Teachers’ Day on 5 October which has been held every year since 1994. Its aim is to celebrate the teaching profession worldwide and give teachers a voice. This year’s theme is ‘Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future’.  Education organisations across the globe are running events and campaigns celebrating the leadership, resourcefulness and determination of teachers working in challenging circumstances. Many teachers have set up community support groups and some even delivered lessons from the back of a truck. Despite having no access to computers or the internet in some parts of the world they have come  up with creative solutions to make sure that everyone who needs it has access to learning.

World Teachers’ Day is an opportunity to celebrate the work of teachers – not just those who have risen above the parapets and won awards, but those who have genuinely changed people’s lives. These are the real influencers. We hope that Jamie wins the prestigious million dollar Global Teacher Prize. That would make him the second UK teacher to win. In 2018 Andria Zafiramouan, an arts and textiles teacher from a tough school in the London Borough of Brent, took the top prize. Her achievement was giving hope to pupils, many of whom came from seriously deprived multi-cultural backgrounds blighted by poverty. Her story was splashed all over the media – deservedly so. She was named in the top ten of the Evening Standard’s 1000 Londoners list of the most influential people in London. Ironically, in contrast to the official government policy line promoting academic achievement, her approach was to use art to tackle the social and psychological problems that many of her pupils experienced. The result was the school was ranked in the top 1.5 per cent in the UK for improving children’s achievement. Andria has used the million dollar prize money to set up a charity Artists in Residence promoting the arts in the school and the wider community.

As PR professionals we use influencers to sell brands, endorse messages and promote campaigns. Many of these influencers are celebrities with a limited shelf life or here-today-gone-tomorrow social media buffs. Isn’t it time that we celebrated the real influencers – the people who have dedicated their careers to giving people opportunities in life? Teachers.

Use the World Teachers’ Day hashtag (#WorldTeachersDay) to promote a good news story about a teacher or a teaching initiative that has impressed you. Visit the World Teachers’ Day website: https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/worldteachersday for communication materials.

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