Shelby County Schools teacher and longtime TEA member Melissa Collins was among 50 educators chosen from around the world as finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, awarded in Dubai March 18.
Collins, a second-grade teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School in Whitehaven, was recognized by London-based Varkey Foundation, whose goal is to improve education standards for underprivileged children around the world. Collins was chosen from 30,000 applicants in 173 countries based on her effectiveness and inspiring students to learn.
"I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a remarkable opportunity to work on impacting the educational system in Shelby County and around the world," Collins said. “I spent two days being trained to be a Varkey Teacher Ambassador, and heard inspiring messages from speakers.”
Collins said the experience of traveling to Dubai and working with teachers from across the globe brought new perspectives for her and her students. A champion of STEM education, Collins says it gives her students an opportunity to think critically and creatively about solving real-world problems.
Collins inspires her students to dream big and start thinking about their careers early in life.
"I want them to develop a love for science, which is why I call them Junior Scientists and you can see them wearing lab coats in my classroom,” Collins said. “Some of these kids will go off and pursue STEM careers because of the work they do in this class.”
Collins has received numerous awards and recognition throughout her career, including the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence and a $10,000 prize as one of the nation’s top educators during the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Awards Gala in 2013.
Collins said her decision to go into education and be a vocal public education advocate was inspired by her father, who was a coach for more than 20 years at Whitehaven High School, taught social studies, and retired as a principal. She said she remembers “the little picket signs from the strike in Memphis” her father stored in the attic, and it serves as a reminder that teachers’ advocacy work is never finished.
“I knew when I first started teaching at 24 that it was important for me to advocate for this profession,” Collins said. “I needed to advocate for the students and for myself. I enjoy the benefits of UEA, TEA and NEA, and know that we must fight to improve our profession like countless teachers did before us. I’m committed to telling every teacher I see that they need to be part of our Association.”