Joe Fatheree said he had an incredible start to his day Wednesday when he saw a video of one of the world's greatest thinkers, Stephen Hawking, announce that he was one of the world's best teachers.
"For me, I'm still trying to digest it," the Effingham High School teacher said. "It was really special to have someone who is so renown to take time out of his life to celebrate great teaching."
Of the 8,000 global applicants, Fatheree has been selected as one of ten finalists for the Varkey Foundation's second annual Global Teacher Prize. The winner will be announced March 13 in Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates. The honor comes with a $1 million prize.
Fatheree is one of two U.S. teachers in contention for the honor.
Fatheree, a media teacher, has been known for his unconventional teaching style.
When he started his career as an English teacher about three decades ago, he said his students weren't responding to standard lessons, so he tried whatever he could to get them engaged. He told students that it didn't matter whether they had mastered grammar rules, for example, as long as they wrote.
Since then, Fatheree has been an influential teacher in the community, helping thousands of other teachers through his relationships with legislators.
Unit 40 Superintendent Mark Doan said the recognition as a global finalist Wednesday should give Fatheree even more opportunities as an education activist.
"For him to be a mouthpiece for students and teachers is wonderful, and he takes that seriously," Doan said. "This is a once in a lifetime deal. He's already a winner. This opens so many doors for him to talk about education."
Fatheree realizes so many of the teachers in the state, nation, and world are hardworking and deserving of accolades, and he said he wishes that they could all experience what he's now going through.
"This has been an incredible experience," he said. "It's been a wonderful thing."
Stan Polanski can be reached at email@example.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 131.
2016 Global Teacher Prize finalists
Joe Fatheree (USA) approaches teaching media production by combining project-based learning with real-life job opportunities. Joe engages his students, many are low-performing readers, by developing unique approaches that include using hip hop to explore literature. Joe’s students produce music, books and short films to industry standards covering topics such as poverty, bullying and homelessness. He was Illinois Teacher of the Year in 2007 and received the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009.
Michael Soskil (USA) has created a global classroom that uses technology to connect his students to international projects. His students have interacted with over 70 countries and the International Space Station. Soskil’s students have achieved real-world success by raising more than $12,000 for water filters for Nairobi’s Kibera slum. They have traded math lessons for Swahili lessons with students in Kenya. Michael’s school has exceeded state averages in tests, despite poverty in the area. He is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, NGO advisor and has received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.
Robin Chaurasiya (India), a former US Air Force Lieutenant, moved to India after serving in the military and helping to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She founded a non-profit school in Mumbai that serves girls aged 12-20. Students are survivors of trafficking and daughters of sex workers. Her curriculum focuses on issues that affect the girls’ lives, such as caste, class, religion, environment and healthcare. Robin’s students often become teachers and community leaders.
Ayub Mohamud (Kenya) teaches business in Nairobi. His curriculum equips students with the skills to become social entrepreneurs. One idea developed by his students produces roofing tiles from waste could change the lives of millions of slum dwellers. Ayub combats terrorism, extremism and radicalism through engagement programs in Kenyan schools.
Colin Hegarty (United Kingdom) teaches math in London to students ages 11-18. He believes there is no such thing as “being bad at math,” but rather, it is a matter of tuition and support. He has developed more than 1,500 math videos that have been viewed more than 5 million times.
Hanan Alhroub (Palestine) grew up in a refugee camp and after seeing the impact of violence on children, Hanan decided to pursue primary education. Hanan has devoted her work to helping students that require special support at school because of exposure to violence. The ongoing conflict has made Palestinian schools tense environments. Hanan develops trusting relationships with her students and emphasizes the importance of literacy. Her approach has led to a decline in violent behaviour in school and inspired colleagues to adopt similar methods.
Kazuya Takahashi (Japan) developed a program to harness students’ creativity that includes LEGO-based instruction and, with help from the Japan Space Elevator Association and JAXA, organized the first space elevator competition for high school students. He encourages his students to be creative and independent in a culture where conforming is the norm.
Maarit Rossi (Finland) teaches math to students in Finland by asking them to solve real-life problem in fun ways. Maarit works to prove that math is a fun and useful tool that helps make sense of the world. She has co-authored 9 text books and her school consistently ranks above average in national tests.
Richard Johnson (Australia) is a science teacher that launched the country’s first science lab for students, for which he received the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Teaching. Since the lab was set up, the school has seen academic performance improvements.
Aqueela Asifi (Pakistan) is an Afghan refugee who has taught at Pakistan’s Kot Chandana camp for over 20 years and has set up a school for girls. Today, there are 9 schools in the camp with over 1,500 students, including 900 girls. She was presented with the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award in 2015.