‘My year as a million-dollar teacher’

Winning the $1 million Global Teacher Prize was a life-changing experience for Maggie MacDonnell, a teacher in a remote Inuit village, and her pupils. Tes reports. 

Maggie MacDonnell was halfway on her journey to the Global Teacher Prize final when it occurred to her that she had nothing suitable to wear.

“There’s definitely nowhere in the Arctic where I could find a glamorous evening dress.”

This sense of an innocent abroad punctuates MacDonnell’s description of her year as winner of the $1 million Global Teacher Prize.

MacDonnell teaches at the Ikusik School in Salluit, a remote Inuit village in the Canadian Arctic. She won the Global Teacher Prize in recognition of her use of physical activity, such as kayaking, to counter chronic mental ill health among the pupils in the area.

“I don’t know if this is an example of my naivety, but I certainly didn’t know the kind of spotlight I was stepping into,” she says. “Maybe it was coming from a small village, with poor internet.”

What is particularly gratifying about the spotlight that has been shone on MacDonnell’s corner of the Arctic, she says, is that it has highlighted the context in which she works: among Inuit pupils, whose endemic poverty, housing problems and high suicide rates have been typically ignored by the Canadian media.

Since MacDonnell was named global teacher of the year, however, the media has found the time and the budget to make the journey. “We’ve had a lot of media come up and shine a light on how education can be transformative,” MacDonnell says.

Meanwhile, she is considering ways to spend her $1 million prize money. Having set up various kayaking projects for Inuit pupils – reintroducing them to their own cultural heritage – she is now looking at teaching her pupils traditional kayak-building skills. And she is hoping to set up an all-female group of kayakers, with the aim of eventually paddling between two major Canadian landmarks.”

The 2018 Global Teacher Prize shortlist will be announced later this month. This will mark the end of MacDonnell’s year-long moment of glory: something she does not feel too nostalgic about. In fact, she says, she looks forward to being able to collaborate with a new group of shortlisted teachers.

“I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the spotlight. But there’s so much richness – the real prize is in the family of teachers you can join.”

Read more about Maggie’s year and its impact on her community ‘My year as a million-dollar teacher’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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