Sunday, November 20, 2022

Those Who Can, Teach - Andria Zafirakou

 The title caught my attention when we were buying books for Anjali's birthday and somehow I felt it was an appropriate gift for her - with her love for the arts and humanities. Andria Zafirakou won the Global Teacher Prize in 2018, a million dollar prize which she proposes to use for arts education - a field where there are likely to be more cuts thanks to skewed education policy.

There are  smart people and there are those with a heart. The smart one understand how to promote themselves, stay in power, get the most of everything by doing the right things, saying the right things. What ultimately matters to them is staying there  - like many educational policy makers are. To stay there they are willing to sacrifice all that is good for the customer, the child, because the parents want something. Its like how many top schools function. The parents want something - give it to them - irrespective of what the child needs. And then, there are people with a heart. Andria is one of them.

The spirit of education is doing what is right by the child, understanding that each one has a special ability, immense potential, that circumstances somehow make them behave differently, that love shown the right way (including tough love) is what they need to see a glimpse of what they could be. They all need a shot at making their dreams come true instead of being made into factory line people. Artists, designers, creators - it is a world that involves you completely.

Coming from a Greek immigrant family that left a beautiful and bountiful land and came to London to restart their lives with nothing more than a dollar in their pocket, Andria understands immigrant lives so well. She was always clear that she wanted to teach she says and when she joined the Alperton Community School in a tough area of London ( a bit like Sydney Poitier in 'To Sir with Love'). Immigrants from all over the world - Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Algeria, Syria, West Indies - there were over a hundred languages that the kids spoke in the school. Being an immigrant apart from being an empathetic person made Andria learn to say 'Hello' in almost eighty languages, a factor that put many immigrant parents who do not speak English to rest.

Andria went through her years as a teacher with one single aim - of giving each child a fair chance - however badly they behaved or where they came from. From buying clothes for those who could not afford them, helping with portfolios, counselling parents, counselling kids, dealing with hooliganism - finding and coaxing the brightest side in each of her students. Some could not speak, some had no social skills, some bad hygiene and no food to eat, some from violent backgrounds, some who had no family - horror stories - that she understood and helped. She was tough and ensured that she was not their 'friend' who would tolerate any nonsense. She put her foot down where needed and where she felt the child would benefit. She used the same technique with her colleagues who could not cope with teaching as well.

Andria was always tuned into the child and her needs. It probably came from her work ethic, her culture, her own nature and it made her a wonderful teacher - one who believes in you, gives you the chance, backs you, pulls you out and puts you on track. 

I loved the book and I loved the way it is structured. The chapters, each one telling one story that explains how one goes about dealing with the tough situations, her own back story interspersed with her career, are easy to read and always saying something that we as humans need to pay heed to. Success in any field is based on the same things - a love for what you do, caring for those you are working for. I can imagine how she must have felt when she returned from Dubai after winning the prize and found a hundred of her students, her collages, waiting at the airport. That must have been bigger than meeting the Prime Minister! Lovely book and I hope Anjali gets to read it.