Meet the World's Best Teachers

Whether they're teaching refugee girls, bringing math to the masses or helping traumatized children, the one thing amazing teachers share is a willingness to go above and beyond in the name of education.

They may live thousands of miles apart, but these teachers are all dedicated to empowering their students, whether they are kids, teenagers or adults.

Meet six inspiring educators who could quite easily be described as the 'world's best teachers'.

Kakenya Ntaiya: Kenya

Growing up in a Maasai village in south Kenya, it was expected that Kakenya Ntaiya would leave education after she became a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM) in her teenage years.
Having been engaged at the age of five, it was thought she would then follow the traditional path and begin preparations for marriage.

But, determined to continue her education, Ms Ntaiya made a deal with her father. She said would undergo the practice of female circumcision at the age of 13 only on the condition that she could finish high school.

Her father agreed, and Ms Ntaiya then went one step further by negotiating with the village elders to do something no girl before had ever done: she asked to leave the village of Enoosaen to go to college in the United States, making the promise that she would use her education to benefit the community.

Speaking in her 2013 TED Talk, Ms Ntaiya said that arriving in the United States she discovered that the circumcision she underwent is known as female genital mutilation, and that it is illegal in Kenya.

She added: 'I learned that I did not have to trade part of my body to get an education. I had a right.'

'I learned that my mom had a right to own property. I learned that she did not have to be abused because she is a woman. Those things made me angry. I wanted to do something.'
So standing by her promise, Ms Ntaiya returned to her village to found the Kakenya Center for Excellence, a primary boarding school that opened its doors in 2009.

She remains committed to her belief that girls' education can be a crucial tool for fighting destructive cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and early forced marriage.

The school currently has 170 students, and is now aiming to to create a model that would enable all girls in Africa to have the opportunities they need to learn and achieve their full potential.

Stephen Ritz: United States

New York teacher Stephen Ritz firmly believes that every child deserves a safe, healthy and nurturing environment where they can work and dream.

And it is this belief that stands at the core of the Green Bronx Machine – a project created by Mr Ritz for students to grow their own vegetables indoors and outdoors all year round.

Teaching at Public School 55 in New York City's South Bronx - the poorest Congressional District in America – Mr Ritz quickly became aware of the limited engagement and opportunities within schools.

'We created Green Bronx Machine with a desire to move those who are 'apart from success' to become 'a part of success' in ways that benefit society,' he says.

'[It is] rooted in the fundamental belief that people should not have to leave their community to live, learn and earn in a better one.'
Set up as an after-school program for high school students at traditionally under-performing schools, the Green Bronx Machine has since been integrated into the core curriculum. Since the project began, Mr Ritz and his students have installed over 100 gardens in New York City, teaching students key skills while also helping achieve food security.

And the impact has been phenomenal. Mr Ritz says that attendance has soared from 40 per cent daily to 93 per cent daily, generated 100 per cent passing rates on State Tests, and helped create 2,200 local jobs.

Now 35,000 pounds of vegetables later, he says his favorite crop is children who turned into 'happy and healthy well-adjusted adults aspiring to things and opportunities they never imagined before'.

He adds: 'I myself have lost over 100 pounds and collectively my students have lost thousands. In a community with limited means and access to healthy fresh food, we are growing it daily and hyper-locally with 90 per cent less water and 90 per cent less space.

'Most importantly, when we teach children about nature, we teach them to nurture, and when we teach children to nurture, we as a society collectively embrace our better nature'.
Mr Ritz explains that the program has also helped to attract new dedicated teachers in traditionally difficult-to-staff communities.
'Behind every successful individual there is a teacher, a mentor or a competent adult who kindled and nurtured the flames and passion of a student,' he adds.

'I am determined to be that kind, caring accessible adult for as many children as possible.'

'I cannot think of anything more impactful and satisfying. This work is not about giving back, it is about forever paying it forward and growing something greater.'


Aqeela Asifi: PakistanWhen Aqeela Asifi left Kabul in Afghanistan with her family in 1992, she ended up living in the remote refugee settlement of Kot Chandna in the Punjab region of Pakistan, where most girls were excluded from the classroom.
But despite the desperately limited resources, Ms Asifi was determined that Afghan refugee girls should be educated, and she began teaching classes in a makeshift tent.

However, in a community where strict cultural traditions kept most girls at home, the teacher faced significant challenges.

She initially focused on teaching non-controversial subjects such as personal hygiene, home management skills and religious education. But after gaining the trust of the community, the teacher was able to introduce literacy, Dari language, mathematics, geography and history.

Thanks to her work, today there are nine schools in the village and more than 1,500 students, including 900 girls.

Through education, early and forced marriages in the community have declined, and the schools have produced over 1,000 graduates, including both Afghan refugee girls and also local Pakistani children.

Some have gone on to become doctors, engineers, government officials and teachers in Afghanistan.

'When you have mothers who are educated, you will almost certainly have future generations who are educated,' said Ms Asifi. 'I wish for the day when people will remember Afghanistan, not for war, but for its standard of education.'


Hanan Al Hroub: Palestine 
Growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp in the city of Bethlehem, Hanan Al Hroub and her young family were frequently surrounded by acts of violence.
After her own children were left deeply traumatized by a shooting incident, Ms Al Hroub started working as a primary school teacher, dedicated to helping troubled pupils in the region.

Her experiences caused her to think about how Palestinian classrooms can be tense environments for kids growing up in the region, and consider how these children can be helped through schooling.

Ms Al Hroub, who now teaches in the West Bank city of al-Bireh just outside Ramallah, advocates a 'No to Violence' slogan and uses a specialist approach focused on developing trusting, respectful, honest and affectionate relationships with her students.

Her invaluable contribution to teaching was recognized this month when she was awarded the second annual Global Teacher Prize, a $1million award for excellence in teaching.

In her acceptance speech, she reiterated her mantra of 'No to Violence' and stressed the importance of dialogue.

'The Palestinian teacher can talk to the world now. Hand in hand we can affect change and provide a safe education to provide peace,' she told the Associated Press.
She added that she now plans to use the use the million-dollar prize money to create scholarships for students who excel, in order to encourage them to choose careers in teaching.

Colin Hegarty: United Kingdom  

For Colin Hegarty, math has always opened doors. Growing up in a one-bedroom apartment in north London, his love of learning saw him become the first person in his family to go to college and then embark on a lucrative career in finance.
And since he switched to teaching, Mr Hegarty has been working to help open those doors for adults and children across the world through a series of math videos.
'Education, and maths [as the subject is known in the UK] in particular, has been a great enabler in my life,' he says. 'I like to tell my students how maths allows you to have access to well-paid jobs, lucrative careers, and be a decision maker in your community.

'As well as it just being useful for the normal boring stuff, for me it's about social movement and being able to have an influence in your life.'
Graduating with a First Class degree from the Oxford University, Mr Hegarty, now 34, took a job as an accountant for top city firm Deloitte, but six years ago he moved into teaching.

Then a couple of years later, he began posting videos on YouTube after one of his students at Preston Manor School in north-west London had to take time off to see his terminally ill father and was worried about falling behind.

Mr Hegarty put all his math lessons online in about 40 videos, so the student was able to keep up with his studies and pass his exams.

After students from all across the country started using the videos, Mr Hegarty was inspired to create more. He says he has now made a total of around 2,000 videos that have been viewed some six-and-a-half million times.

Mr Hegarty explains that with the videos he uses a 'Flip Learning' model. This means that his students watch the lectures in advance of the class and come in with their notes completed. At this point, they know the theory and they can just do math for an hour.

'The real motivation for me is children who can't afford private tuition,' Mr Hegarty says. 'In maths, if you're lucky, you pick it up straight away in class. But most times people need to hear it twice, three times, four times, or even ten times.

'It's really embarrassing when you're young to put your hand up in class and say you don't get stuff. Kids just go quiet and pretend they know things. [The videos] create a place where they can go for free help back home and get that confidence they need in maths.'
Mr Hegarty is now taking time out of the classroom to develop Hegarty Maths, a website that he believes is going to change math education.
'After the gift of life and love, the next best thing you can give to someone is a love of learning,' he says. 'When you love learning, it's not just what's in the book or the knowledge it teaches you, it's the ability to better yourself at all times.

'And every time you are faced with a new obstacle such as starting a new job you want to improve and you want to get better and you want to take control of your own life. With teaching that is our job: To enable children to love learning. There is no better job than to be part of that.'


Sakena Yacoobi: Afghanistan

When the Taliban set about closing all girls' schools in Afghanistan in the 1990s, teacher Sakena Yacoobi was determined that women and girls should not be deprived of an education.

So at tremendous risk to herself, she went about setting up new schools in secret through the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL).

In the following months and years, this NGO supported 80 underground home schools for 3,000 girls across the country. Under the leadership of Dr Yacoobi, it now continues to work at a grassroots level with men, women and communities to provide education in a country affected by decades of war and strife.

Dr Yacoobi came to the United States in the 1970s to further her education, but after earning her Bachelor's and Master's degrees, she returned to her home country to work with the Afghan people.

Since AIL was set up, it is estimated to have directly or indirectly impacted the lives of more than 12 million people.

Dr Yacoobi says that women in particular have benefitted from AIL. She explains: '[They] have learned skills in the centers - tailoring, computer, English, embroidery, carpet weaving, beauty shop management, calligraphy, miniature painting - and are starting businesses and earning income for their families.

She adds: 'With a quality education, women and girls learn critical thinking skills; they learn about health, human rights, leadership, peace and so much more.

'They can learn a skill so that they can get a job and help with the income of their family. When women and girls are educated, they become better citizens, able to participate constructively in their society. They also are better mothers in raising their children and taking care of their family because they have knowledge.'
Dr Yacoobi is now hopeful that the work of AIL will make a difference to the future of Afghanistan.
'Change does not occur rapidly,' she says. 'It takes time and patience. Because we involve the community in our projects as partners and ask for their contribution and ideas and listen to them, what we are now seeing is that the communities where we work are changing.

'People in the communities where we work - men and women - accept that education is important for all, boys and girls. Education is valued.'

Credit: Annabel Grossman/DailyMail