March 21, 2019
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Maine educator Nancie Atwell wins Global Teacher Prize

Courtesy of Nancie Atwell
Courtesy of Nancie Atwell
Nancie Atwell of the Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb one the $1 million Varkey GEMS Foundation Global Teacher Prize, the largest award of its kind.

BANGOR, Maine — A teacher of teachers from Maine won what has been called the “Nobel Prize of Teaching” on Sunday in Dubai, as well as the $1 million prize that comes with it.

She was among 5,000 educators, representing 127 countries, nominated for the Global Teacher Prize.

“I’m honored to accept this award, especially so in the company of these extraordinary teachers,” Nancie Atwell, 63, of Edgecomb said Sunday morning, moments after her name was announced. She awaited the name of the winner on a Dubai stage alongside nine other finalists from around the globe.

Atwell, who began her teaching career in 1973, started the Center for Teaching and Learning, an Edgecomb-based K-8 school, in 1990. Faculty at the “demonstration school” of about 80 students develop effective teaching methods and share them with educators around the world, who come to observe in her classrooms. Atwell continues to teach students, as well as the visiting teachers.

She said in a January interview with the Bangor Daily News that, if she won, she hoped to use the $1 million prize to support and provide more student scholarships for the Center for Teaching and Learning. She also would like to invest some of the money in books, because her school places a heavy focus on reading. Students are encouraged to read what they want to read.

The Global Teacher Prize is sponsored by the Varkey GEMS Foundation, a business that provides private education to more than 140,000 students in more than 150 countries.

The award recognizes achievement in and out of the classroom, innovative instructional practices, efforts to improve access to quality education and contributions to public debate, along with other qualities.

“Instruction isn’t indulgent or soft,” Atwell said Sunday. “It’s immersive and demanding, and it’s satisfying for the student and the teacher, always.”

Atwell’s daughter, Anne Atwell-McLeod, who also is a teacher, attended the Dubai ceremony alongside Atwell. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Rwanda’s president and other dignitaries and world leaders also were in attendance. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former Secretary of State and Hillary Clinton recorded video statements for the event.

Atwell also has written numerous books about education methods, including 1987’s “In the Middle,” which has sold more than 500,000 copies.

“I’ve learned, and I’m still learning, how to make a school a place of happiness and wisdom for my students and myself,” Atwell said during her acceptance speech. “I love the challenges. I love my teaching life.”

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Nancie Atwell's name.


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