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Surrey teacher only Canadian in Top 10 for US$1 million global award

Annie Ohana recognized for efforts to ensure all students seen and heard
Annie Ohana is one of 10 teachers chosen from around the world as outstanding educators. She, along with the other nine, now has the chance to win US$1 million for her students. (Contributed photos)

Annie Ohana was brought to tears when she learned that she is now among the top 10 candidates for a prestigious global teacher award valued at US$1 million (CDN$1.38 million).

The Surrey teacher was nominated for the prize in recognition of her efforts to ensure that “all students are seen and heard and able to realize their full potential.”

The Global Teacher Prize recognizes educators who are creating change with their platforms for students and the wider community. Ohana, a teacher at L.A. Matheson Secondary, is one of 10 chosen from more than 7,000 applicants spanning 130 countries, a release notes.

“You lead your students in field work and infuse authentic Aboriginal language and content within the curriculum. As a result, more students are taking social science courses and there are higher graduation rates for Indigenous students,” actor Stephen Fry said in a Global Teacher Prize video congratulating Ohana.

While announced publicly on Wednesday, Oct. 25, Ohana was told the news a few days earlier and still can’t believe it.

”What I go through, I think, is so little but in essence, you are constantly fighting for your space and your right to teach in a way that is more inclusive and tries to break through that settler colonial framework,” Ohana said.

A social justice teacher and department head of Indigenous studies at her school, Ohana’s teaching process aims to support the large groups of racialized students who attend her “inner-city school.”

Doing so is not always easy, but it’s always worth it, she said.

“To have the vitriol, to face the harassment from some groups can be tough and this definitely makes it feel like ‘OK, you’re doing something right.’”

With the winner of the grand prize set to be announced on Nov. 8 in Paris, Ohana says winning isn’t everything and to have made it into the top 10 is an honour.

“It’s more about education taking that stage and having that chance. It’s a moment that a lot of teachers don’t get and so, if I can represent a whole lot of different people, then why not?”

“It’s such a stressful job and you wonder if you’re doing anything well or right, and are you making an impact. In a way, this allows you to see that.”

Ohana is the only Canadian chosen as a finalist, even in the top-50 category, with the other nine finalists hailing from Ghana, the U.K., France, South Africa, Pakistan, Chile, India, Ukraine and the U.S.A.

“As a collective, when you see these 50 teachers, these 10 teachers, everything they do is wrapped around community and it’s wrapped around elevating students,” she said.

Since being recognized, Ohana has been feeling the love from her students, colleagues and the wider community.

“My principal announced it over the P.A., so all day it’s been ‘Congratulations Ms. Ohana.’ I don’t know, maybe they just want the money,” she quipped, laughing.

“We haven’t had a lot of moments on that global stage so it’s another moment for us to highlight our school and fight back against that idea of what Surrey is and what the kids are.”

The winner of the prize will receive US$100,000 each year for 10 years.

“I would love to give a trip to Haida Gwaii for our Indigenous program… We’ve never been able to pull that off with fundraising.

“To look at where the holes are and treat it as seed money so it grows bigger, that’s the plan. And there’s more to come.”

Ohana is a firm believer that “education can not be within four walls” and works hard each day to live that philosophy.

“I’m very humble to be a servant, to work alongside people and offer spaces and time that I think public education should be about.”

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Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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