Teacher Prize

Indian American Akash Patel of Thomas J. Rusk Middle School in Dallas, Texas, was among 50 teachers worldwide named as finalists for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize by the Varkey Foundation. (globalteacherprize.org photo)

The Varkey Foundation Dec. 12 announced its 50 finalists for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize, with Indian American Akash Patel among those in contention.

Patel, a teacher at Dallas, Texas-based Thomas J. Rusk Middle School, began his teaching career in very small rural communities in Oklahoma where people had never seen or met “a brown Indian guy who spoke five languages and had traveled to over 30 countries,” the prize website said.

He used his travel experiences to design all of his lessons, among them using his experiences of working with elephants in South Asia to teach children to map elephant DNA to study poaching patterns, his bio explained.

He currently teaches Spanish at a Title 1 Accelerating Campus Excellence 100 percent low socioeconomic middle school in Dallas, and previously taught at a similar elementary school in Oklahoma City.

In both schools, his students have come from very difficult backgrounds and have included gang members, drug addicts and “juvenile delinquents,” the bio added.

In his first year of teaching, Patel was recognized by the State Department of Education and the Multicultural Education Institute as the January 2015 Educator of the Month and the 2015 Multicultural Teacher of the Year for promoting global citizenship in his classroom and achieving a successful academic turnaround, the Global Teacher Prize bio noted.

Patel has connected all of his classrooms with people and professionals worldwide using virtual platforms such as Adobe Connect, Skype and Google Hangout.

At first, he started inviting his friends from social media platforms but eventually he mobilized over 1,000 volunteers from over 150 countries to join his Global Connect database at the World Experiences Foundation, a charitable organization he founded.

He frequently speaks at local and national conferences about his classroom experience. He has also trained over 5,000 teachers in Oklahoma to use the Global Connect database and other multicultural programs, his bio noted, adding that thousands of Oklahoma and Texas children travel to countries worldwide through World Experiences Foundation’s Global Connect and International Day programs.

Patel is joined by India-based teacher at Government Inter College BHEL Pradeep Negi and 48 others vying for the title.

The Global Teacher Prize is a $1 million award presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.

The prize serves to underline the importance of educators and the fact that, throughout the world, their efforts deserve to be recognized and celebrated, according to the Varkey Foundation. It seeks to acknowledge the impacts of the very best teachers – not only on their students but on the communities around them, it said.

The Varkey Foundation, founded by Sunny Varkey, a non-resident Indian education entrepreneur and philanthropist based in Dubai, is a not-for-profit organization established to improve the standards of education for underprivileged children throughout the world. Its mission is that every child should have a good teacher, which it strives to accomplish by building teacher capacity, advocacy campaigns to promote excellence in teaching practice at the highest levels of policy making, and providing grants to partner organizations that offer innovative solutions in support of its mission. 

Varkey is founder and chairman of the global advisory and educational management firm GEMS Education, which is one of the largest operators of private kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools in the world.

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