OPAP Cyprus has provided the younger generation the chance to speak with local role models face-to-face, to chat to them, ask them questions, and to learn from their efforts and route to success through its new creative campaign, ‘GREAT. Just Like You’

British Cypriot teacher, Andria Zafirakou was the winner of the 2018 Global Teacher Prize. She is an Arts and Textiles teacher based in northwest London, England

Pick three words to describe Andria Zafirakou.
“Smiling, strong, and someone who has a big heart.”

What does it mean to be the best teacher in the world? How did it change your life?
“I feel as if it is not real. It is very difficult to maintain the title of best teacher in the world since there are so many excellent teachers out there. However, teachers need to be appreciated. I want people to know that teachers do a great deal of good, and in my opinion, it is the best job in the world. My world has changed completely as my life before the award was a simple routine. However, now I have had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world, meeting excellent teachers, helping others become better at teaching, and that is something I enjoy very much.”

What do these words mean to you: school, pupil, the arts?
“You should think of school as a home, where everyone plays together, learns together, and even experience the challenges together; that is what school means to me. A place where everyone – teachers and kids – can grow and make mistakes together. After all, we learn from our mistakes.”

What was the hardest thing you have faced during your time as a teacher?
“I have dealt with kids who, despite continuous educational assistance, have taken the wrong path in life, having trouble with the law, or even losing their life. This is very difficult for me to accept.”

copy of andria 1

What advice would you give to children?
“Firstly, I would say children need to make mistakes to move forward in life, and they not to be afraid to make them. Teachers will do whatever they can to assist them along the way. Secondly, children need to do something else other than just play with their electronic devices; they need to interact and socialise with other children, spend time outdoors, and fall in love with the world.”

What, in your opinion, should change in today’s schools so that it becomes more interesting for students?
“I think educators need to be asking children this question. Nowadays, professions have changed significantly, especially with the digital era taking over. It is important to embrace these new professions and incorporate these options at school as career paths for children to consider.”

What made you stand out among the 30,000 educators, earning you the top prize?
“Honestly, I do not have a clue. I cannot understand why I won, why the judges gave me the most votes. However, I hope it is because they saw that the arts have a pivotal role to play in children’s lives.”

How much has the award changed your life?
“In some ways a great deal, in other ways not so much.”

How did you make use of the prize money?
“I started a small non-profit organisation called, ‘Arists in Residence’. Through the organisation, I am encouraging artists, designers etc. to work in schools, develop some projects for children, so that they learn about art and the multiple benefits the creative world has to offer.”

How did you decide to become an educator? Did you always want to be one?
“I think so, yes. I did not want to do anything else in life. Whenever I walk inside a classroom, I feel like I am at home. I feel at ease. I have visited many schools across the world, and I still believe education is my destiny.”

What do you tell yourself whenever you face a difficult situation, and what gives you the strength to carry on?
“There are a lot of things I tell myself, however the most important thing is to keep going. We should draw on other people as an example who have persevered and achieved. Nothing is impossible. However, it is important to pause and remain calm, as everything always has a habit of working itself out in the end.”

What is the most important lesson you took from your pupils?
“That whoever they are, they can all feel that they can achieve, that they have done something good; everybody can succeed. There are children who are blind or have mobility issues, or have problems at home with their parents, yet they still try hard to pave their own paths. And our job as teachers is to help them get there.”

What are your dreams for the future?
“I would love to return to Cyprus. I have two daughters, and I hope they will grow to become powerful young ladies, with everything they could possibly need.”

Watch the interview on Cyprus Mail’s YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/EogZEldfqsg