A north London woman has made it to the top ten of a million-dollar competition to find the world’s best teacher.
She was commended for her work with deprived pupils in the borough, where some children are forced to do homework in the bathroom because they live in such crowded houses.
Ms Zafirakou holds extra lessons out of hours for such pupils and works across other services, such as police and mental health specialists, to help children in the community.
She has helped to set up clubs and societies, redesigned the curriculum with her fellow teachers to make it relevant to pupils’ lives, and is known for taking time to understand her students’ lives, such as visiting their homes, taking the bus with them and welcoming them at the school gates.
“By getting pupils to open up about their home lives, I discovered that many of my students come from crowded homes where multiple families share a single property,” Ms Zafirakou said.
“In fact it’s often so crowded and noisy I’ve had students tell me they have to do their homework in the bathroom, just to grab a few moments alone so they can concentrate.
“Some were being forced to play truant to cook meals in the allocated time slot they were permitted to use their shared home kitchen. Others could not participate in extra-curricular activities after school because they had to take on parental responsibilities like collecting their brothers and sisters from other schools.”
The competition was launched by the Varkey Foundation to “inspire” people to enter teaching and “shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do”.
Upon announcing the finalists, Bill Gates said: “When you think about what drives progress and improvement in the world, education is like a master switch – one that opens up all sorts of opportunities for individuals and societies.
“And research has shown that having a great teacher can be the most important factor that determines whether students get a great education.”
More than 30,000 people were nominated from 173 countries.