Teacher Prize Top 50 Finalists: A Global Connection

What happens when an English Language Arts teacher from the U.S. connects with an English, German, and Drama teacher from Germany through the Varkey Global Teacher Prize? Read on to find out!

One of the greatest things about being a Top 50 Finalist for the Varkey Global #TeacherPrize was meeting the other teachers who came from places all over the world, including Malaysia, India, Afghanistan, China, Spain, and Jordan, to name a few. Many of the Finalists began connecting over Facebook and Twitter, and that’s where we met: Mareike Hachemer from Germany and Nancy Barile from the USA.



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Nancy: I was immediately impressed with Mareike’s excellent English-speaking and writing skills, which allowed us to communicate so well. Mareike teaches English, German, and Drama to students ages 15-20 at Berufliche Schulen Groß-Gerau where she uses a collaborative, group-oriented teaching model that often focuses on self-initiated learning. 

Her passion and enthusiasm for teaching was contagious.

Mareike sent me her teacher webpage, and I instantly found several great ideas that I could use in my own classroom. I was especially drawn to Mareike’s learning platforms that incorporated audiovisual materials that students can use at their own pace. For example, students can choose to study war, click on a link about Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, then click on another link and learn about the demands of globalization. I knew right away that I wanted to create something similar for my own classes.

Mareike also sent me a video of a project she did with her students called “Make a Difference.” Mareike wanted her students to move beyond simply completing a task in the classroom; she wanted them to do something meaningful and relevant that would have an impact on the world.

So she asked them, “Do you think that one person can make a difference?” Most students said no. But Mareike gave them examples of real young people who have fought against child labor or worked to save the environment. For four weeks, Mareike’s students planned their projects, anticipating problems and roadblocks. They went on to help elderly neighbors, spend time with the homeless, or volunteer in animal shelters.

Students then reflected on what they did. What they discovered was that these projects— which most of them didn’t believe in when they started— were rewarding not only for the people they helped, but also for themselves. After watching Mareike’s video, I knew that I wanted to challenge my Advisory students to try and make a difference in their world.

In our conversations, Mareike and I also talked about the differences between American education and German education. In Germany, for example, students are separated when they are 10 years old into three types of schools, which prepare them either for university or for apprenticeships. In her classroom, Mareike is able to choose most of the books that she wants her students to read, and for some grades there is also a list that changes every year. My school has a set curriculum, so through grades 9–11, students all read the same books, allowing teachers to share curriculum ideas with other grade-level teachers.

Most of all, I envied the fact that Germany has much less standardized testing than the U.S. My own students lose over 30 days a school year to testing, some which is experimental and not yet validated to meet a minimum standard of high-stakes standardized assessment.

Mareike: Don’t get me wrong: There is a lot of testing in Germany as well. The main difference is that it is less standardized. The teacher creates the exams, and only the final exams are the same for all the students in the same region.

Getting to know Nancy made me very curious about school life in the American school system. Through her and through the Global Skills and Education Forum, I learned that almost everyone in the United States is paid more than a teacher. That sounds very unfair! Knowing this, it is an even greater achievement of skillful and intelligent people like Nancy to join the profession and even deliberately choose to work in a school with a particularly poor background. I know a lot of people who would think this must be the most difficult job in the world. Why is it not the best paid job then? Almost never are students from difficult backgrounds taught by the best teachers, but Nancy, with all her awards and qualifications, chose a surrounding in which she wouldn’t have an easy life but could have a great impact. I have seen many students thanking her on Facebook, and it was especially touching to see one of her students who grew up during the war in Bosnia, explaining how Ms. Barile had an amazing impact on his life because she believed in him and supported him.

Nancy has been a great inspiration to me! Through her I learned that as teachers we are allowed and almost obliged to share our knowledge with others and become sharing professionals. Before I knew her, I have hesitated to do so. I was worried others might find it vain or unnecessary. Seeing her giving presentations about the teaching profession and reading her blogs, I felt very much encouraged to join the group of teachers who use these means to allow discussion and share examples. I love it that Nancy was a punk rocker before! A real rebel! And that she uses this part of her life to show her students that you don’t need a lot to express your thoughts and point out injustice.

Nancy fights and makes things happen. She has set up a webpage for people to donate money so that authors can come and talk to her students. I have never dreamed about doing this before!

Nancy has given me so much advice. I have learned how to shake off negative comments, how to become a sharing professional, how to break the ice with new students through empathetic videos, how to create a connection between school counselors and teachers. Her CTQ blogs are very helpful!

We plan to continue collaborating, and we are both looking forward to working together as Varkey Teacher Ambassadors. Congratulations to all the 50 Finalists, the Top 10, and the Global Teacher Prize winner, Nancie Atwell!

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Mareike Hachemer (@25MaHa) teaches German, English and Drama to students in their last years at high school. She also works for the International Department at the Ministry of Education and is an active member in the Pestalozzi Programme, the Council of Europe programme for the professional development of teachers and education actors. She is also involved with literature research, theater cooperations and culture programmes.

Nancy Barile (@nancybarile), a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught English Language Arts at Revere High School in Revere, Massachusetts, for 20 years. She advises the Culture Club and Future Teachers Club and is an adjunct professor at Emmanuel College. A blogger for the Center for Teaching Quality, Nancy won Massachusetts Commonwealth Award for Creative Learning in 2011 and the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award in 2013.