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Surrey teacher is finalist in Global Teacher Prize

Annie Ohana in Paris to attend the Global Teacher Prize ceremony.
“The day-to-day, the small conversations we have, the moments where one student gets it...that’s the most important part of all this.”
– Annie Ohana

For many, the prospect of winning $1-million US might be an invitation to take a break and reflect on one’s accomplishments.

But when Surrey teacher Annie Ohana saw her name on the Top 10 finalist list for the Global Teacher Prize, it just inspired more ideas.

“It’s a great opportunity to connect with other teachers and just maybe dream a little bit bigger,” Ohana said on her way to the airport this week for the awards ceremony in Paris.

Ohana, who teaches at LA Matheson Secondary School, was selected from a field of more than 7,000 nominations and applications from 130 countries around the world.

The award, presented by the Varkey Foundation in partnership with UNESCO and Dubai Cares, aims to raise the profession’s profile with the belief that education has the power to reduce poverty, prejudice, and conflict. It honours “an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.”

The winner, Sister Zeph from Pakistan, was announced November 8.

Ohana was recognized as a finalist for her work fighting for justice and equity in education. She teaches social justice, law, social studies, humanities, and French, and is an anti-oppression and equity curriculum specialist. She is also a BCTF local representative and founder of Mustang Justice, an anti-oppression and justice-oriented youth service leadership group.

In an interview ahead of the ceremony, Ohana said the idea of a major monetary prize helped her imagine what could be possible. She thought about how a scholarship for students who are not permanent residents could help close gaps they face in access to academic supports, or how a trip for her inner-city students to Aboriginal communities in other parts of the province could build a larger sense of community.

Whatever solutions arise, Ohana said they should come from the community and be sustainable.

“I want to sit down and hear from people about what they think we can do,” she said. “What are some long-term institutional things we can change, that can help many generations of students to come?”

Creative solutions shouldn’t minimize the school district’s responsibility to deliver quality education, she added.

Ohana said she also saw the prize as a jumping-off point to encourage teachers to advocate for their colleagues and stand in solidarity with one another.

British Columbia’s teachers know what it’s like to work with limited resources and most aren’t facing the prospect of a major financial windfall to support their work, she said. They are also working in challenging times, amid attacks on SOGI-inclusive education and personal impacts from the conflict in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

That’s also why it’s so important that teachers resist silos, boost one another up, work in solidarity, and take pride in the critical work they do every day in classrooms, she said.

“As teachers, we still really aren’t appreciated, and we’re often attacked,” she said. “But I think the everyday work we do is a change-maker.”

Teachers don’t need awards to know the worth of what they do, she said.

“The day-to-day, the small conversations we have, the moments where one student gets it, or you host an event, or you put up a display that speaks to someone or that represents them—that’s the most important part of all this,” Ohana said.

“Maybe we just need to recognize ourselves a little bit better, in solidarity with each other, to see the amazing work that’s happening. It's great if larger institutions like UNESCO want to showcase that, but, you know, the fight continues, right? So what do we do to make things better, every day?”


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