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‘The Global Teacher Prize is not about me, it is about the profession’

Colin Hegarty, the UK's only finalist in the Global Teacher Prize 2016, writes exclusively for TES about his hopes for the competition and the media whirlwind he has experienced since the shortlist was announced

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I’m a teacher, first and foremost. But in the past few weeks, I’ve been on a merry-go-around of TV, radio and newspaper appearances. I’ve been on the BBC sofa with Louise Minchin and Bill Turnbull, taught Iwan Thomas some maths on The One Show and been interviewed on Good Morning Britain with Susanne Reid and Piers Morgan.

It’s all because I made the final 10 shortlist for the Global Teacher Prize. I’ve found the experience since the announcement surreal, fun, tiring, nerve-wracking and emotional. But if I’m honest, I’ve mainly found it difficult. I am actually a very quiet and fairly shy person and to be thrust in the spotlight has been quite challenging for me. 

Before every show or meeting a journalist, the fear has been immense, but what has got me through is teaching. Or rather, the memory of the first maths lesson I ever delivered and the fear I had before that moment.  That never fails to puts things into perspective and calm me down.

Inspiring stories

To be part of this whole process has been an honour.  I know my school, Preston Manor in Wembley, is very proud, as are my parents and my wife, who are my rock. 

I’ve needed my strong group of friends and family. One of my favourite TV characters is Saul Goodman from Better Call Saul/Breaking Bad.  For his various questionable characteristics, one I really empathise with him on is the constant feeling you’re not quite good enough.  I’ve felt that my entire life and being ranked in this competition has made me feel this even more. 

When I was announced in the top 50, I took time to read the other 49 teachers’ stories and I was inspired and humbled in equal measure.  We have stories of teachers that include: teachers using their influence to bring peace and hope to young people in desperate need, teachers who have received presidential and national awards for excellence, and teachers running science laboratories to advance STEM learning and influence national practice.  

But this prize is not in the least about me, nor even the wonderful teachers in this shortlist whose stories are inspiring. It’s about our profession. 

In 2013, the Varkey Foundation completed a piece of research called the Global Teacher Status Index, in which they ran surveys 21 countries.  They found that in China alone, teachers were perceived to have an equal status with doctors. In the UK, only 5% of those surveyed thought that a teacher and doctor were of similar status.  In China, 50% of Chinese parents said they would be happy for their child to grow up to become a teacher; the statistic in the UK was about half that. 

Lack of recognition

It’s really important that as a nation and as a worldwide community we really value the influence and power teachers can have. This prize is simply about raising the status of the teaching profession through the medium of sharing great stories and celebrating the amazing work carried out in every corner of the planet by incredible teachers. 

It’s also important to say, it’s not just about these stories.  Probably more important are the stories that never get told.  The stories of teachers who are just always there no-matter-what for their pupils. 

A maths teacher at my school, Mr Patel, retired last year after a remarkable 38 year teaching career starting from a young wide-eyed graduate to retirement age.  There are many Mr Patels out there who day-in day-out are there for the next generation helping them gain the knowledge to make a success of their lives and we need to value and treasure them.

But is teaching really that important and worth all the fuss?  This video clip explains it better than I ever could.

Long-term impact

In this video, professor Stephen Hawking, one of the planet's’ greatest minds, talks about an inspirational teacher at his school in St Albans called Mr Tahta who he says “opened his eyes to the blueprint of the universe, Mathematics”. 

He goes on to say “Thanks to Mr Tahta, I became a Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a position once held by Isaac Newton. 

He finishes by saying “When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are, we can do it because of a teacher! Behind every exceptional person, there is an exceptional teacher.  We must always remember teachers matter.”

I am writing this waiting for my plane to Dubai to take me to the finals ceremony for the competition. I’m so excited about the next few days, mainly because because I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with some incredible teachers from all over the world.  They will no doubt inspire me, but that’s not a surprise, that’s what a great teacher does every day in classrooms ll over the world.

Colin Hegarty is an advanced skills maths teacher at Preston Manor School Wembley and creator of and


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