“Nineteen years ago I returned to my rural hometown to teach. I realized then that my calling in life is to show students that they matter, that they hold within themselves the power to change the lives of others for the better, and that they have reason for hope despite the economic hardships that existed in our community.”
These are the words of Michael Soskil, teacher at Wallenpaupack South Elementary School in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Michael is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching and one of two Global Teacher Prize US finalists who have the distinction of being on the top ten shortlist for the $1 million Global Teacher Prize award, which will be awarded next month. Michael, along with Joe Fatheree from Effingham High School in Effingham, Illinois, were chosen as finalists from a pool of 8,000 nominations and applications from 148 countries.
During his tenure as Head Teacher, Michael’s school has exceeded state averages on state tests annually despite suffering poverty greater than 80 percent of Pennsylvania schools. Guided by neuroscience, his teaching facilitates emotional connections through service projects. Last year his students connected with over 70 countries, and even the International Space Station. When asked about the impact of these service projects, Michael explained:
“I connected core content to service projects in our local community and, through technology, in communities around the world. Students quickly become global citizens by collaborating with peers in other countries to address issues such as child labor, lack of learning materials, agriculture, ocean pollution, water sanitation, and dozens of other important causes.
The most rewarding moment of my teaching career was last May while working with teachers and students in Kibera, Kenya when a cholera outbreak had killed 12 children. Schools in Greece and the US worked together to raise money for water filters for the local students. I facilitated a group Skype call between those students, my students back home, and the two schools in Kibera that received filters from the fundraising efforts. Tears were flowing from all ends of the call from the students. It was an example of the power teachers have to inspire and empower students to believe they can change the world by developing their passions into action. One of the most exciting aspects of being named a Global Teacher Prize finalist is having the opportunity to help teachers and students use global learning experiences to mold students into world changers of tomorrow.”
Joe Fatheree began teaching nearly 30 years ago. He has developed a unique approach to inspire high school students by connecting the curriculum to the real world. They now learn by producing music, books and short films on topics including poverty, death, bullying, homelessness and human rights.
“My mind is racing with excitement as I realize the potential impact that building The Global Teacher Prize’s international network has to change the paradigm and address some of the pressing needs that plague the profession. According to a recent study by UNESCO, the world needs to recruit 25.8 million school teachers to provide every child with a primary education by 2030. This is a daunting task. The fact is our brightest and best educators are no longer considering teaching as a viable career. The recruitment and retention of teachers has become a global problem that is in need of immediate attention.
Still in its infancy, the Global Teacher Prize has focused an international spotlight on teaching. I am honored to have the opportunity to represent teachers from around the world. They are my heroes. I look forward to sharing their stories, challenges, and accomplishments on the global stage to help shape policy and create new systems that will promote positive change for our students and teachers. I am excited to celebrate the outstanding work that teachers are doing around the world and joining hands with the 99 other teacher leaders in the network to discuss what can be done to elevate the profession to ensure every child has a quality education.”
We celebrate these two exceptional teachers for making a difference with their students. The Global Teacher Prize was designed to recognize one unique teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession and highlight other examples of exceptional teaching from around the world. We hope the Prize stimulates the wider public to join in passionate debates about the importance of teachers. A big concern—highlighted by the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Status Index report—is that teaching is not regarded as highly in some societies as it is in others. By celebrating great teachers, the Prize hopes to help redress this balance and increase the professional standing of teachers globally.