Million-dollar win: Edgecomb educator Nancie Atwell earns major prize

Sun, 03/15/2015 - 11:45am

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) in Edgecomb is expected to have $100,000 a year coming its way for 10 years, now that its founder Nancie Atwell has won the Varkey Foundation’s $1 million Global Teacher Prize.

“We’re thrilled,” CTL’s head of school, Scott MacDonald said about Atwell’s win, announced in a Dubai ceremony on Sunday. “It was a great surprise that she won,” MacDonald said in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon.

The other nine finalists were also phenomenal educators, MacDonald said. “So I think we all thought just the nomination was fabulous.” He expects there will be many celebrations coming up in Atwell’s honor.

The prize, to be doled out in yearly installments for 10 years, is good news for the not-for-profit school on Cross Point Road. MacDonald said that Atwell has indicated from the very beginning that, if she won, she would give every penny of the prize money to the school.

The school will have much discussion on the use of the money, but a big factor will be the school’s continuing aim to keep tuition as low as possible, to maintain a broad socio-economic base among students, MacDonald said.

“It”s just a wonderful prize,” he said.

It’s the first time the foundation has given the award, according to a press release from the Varkey Foundation’s public relations firm, Rubenstein Communications. “Widely referred to as the Nobel Prize for teaching, (it is)  the largest prize of its kind and was set up to recognize one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession,” Sunday’s release states.

“I'm honored and proud to receive the Global Teacher Prize,” Atwell states in the release. She said she celebrates it in the company of nine extraordinary colleagues, the other finalists for the award.

 “I love my teaching life, the intellectual, social, and personal challenges of working with young people and the satisfaction of developing methods that transform their lives and give them perspective on the lives of others. I am grateful to the Varkey Foundation for shining a light on teaching as a powerful profession, one of fulfillment, creativity, and lasting worth.”

Atwell received the prize at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2015. On hand were President Bill Clinton, the foundation’s honorary chairman; His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai; the foundation’s founder Sunny Varkey; and education ministers, international education experts and global business leaders, according to the release.

The Global Teacher Prize Academy that chose the winner included Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey, social activist Geoffrey Canada and others from around the world. The U.S. had two other top 10 finalists, Stephen Ritz of Public School 55 in the Bronx and Naomi Volain of Springfield Central High School in Springfield, Mass.

Atwell, a nine-time author who has given hundreds of keynote addresses and workshops, discovered a love of books as a child bedridden with rheumatic fever, the release states; she teaches English as a writing-reading workshop where students choose the books they read and the subjects they write about. In 1990, Atwell founded the Center for Teaching and Learning to develop and disseminate effective classroom practices, it continues. “The faculty conducts seminars, publishes professional books and articles, and invites teachers from across the U.S. and other countries to spend a week at the school to experience its methods firsthand.”

The release lists the Global Teacher Prize Academy’s criteria for picking the winner: “Innovative and effective instructional practices and student learning outcomes in the classroom and school; accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide role models for the teaching profession; contributions to public debates on raising the bar of the teaching profession; sharing inspirational education practices with other teachers; preparing children to be global citizens in a world where they will encounter people from many different religions, cultures and nationalities; improving access to a quality education for children of all backgrounds; and third parties’ recognition of the teacher’s achievements ...”

 As the winner, Atwell will be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation, according to the release. That will mean attending public events and speaking in public forums about improving teaching’s prestige as a profession.