On February 21, Peter, 36, who teaches at Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Nakuru County, received news that has since put him in the limelight.
The Egerton University graduate is one of the top 10 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, a US $1million dollar (Sh100 million) award, presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession. The award is an initiative by Varkey Foundation, an organisation whose aim is to change lives through education.
Peter gives away 80 percent of his monthly income to help poor students in the school he teaches, as well as the families in Pwani Village, where the school is located.
He also initiated a talent nurturing club at the school, besides expanding the school’s Science Club. Through mentorship, which he offers to the learners with the help of other teachers, the school has seen an increase in the number of students who qualify to join university.
Out of more than 10,000 applicants, you made it to the top 10. Congratulations. What is the first thought that crossed your mind after receiving the news?
The first call came from a friend, the same person who had encouraged me to apply for the award. I couldn’t believe it. I considered it a miracle. I still do. It is such an honour to be selected from thousands of applicants around the world for such a prestigious prize.
Has your life changed since?
Before the nomination, I was more of an introvert, but since the announcement was made, I have been compelled by circumstances to get out of my comfort zone, speak my mind more and socialise more.
Every day, I have visitors passing by the school to see me and calls from strangers either congratulating me or seeking to know how I get time for the students in the evening and during the weekends as well. The shortlisting is an encouragement to enhance my creativity so that I can benefit more learners and others in society. I have been inspired to be more resilient, humble and creative.
Should you win, how do you intend to use the prize money?
My main focus will be on the community and the school where I teach. I aspire to strengthen the Talent Nurturing Club, the Science club and inter-school Science project competitions. If I win, I will also invest in a school computer lab and ensure that we have better internet connectivity. A portion of the money will go to supporting bright, but needy students in the area and into the production of drought tolerant crops as well as promotion of kitchen gardening in the community.
What drives you?
First, I believe that to be a great teacher, you have to be creative, embrace technology and modern teaching methods. Equally, you have to do more and talk less. Second, I believe that every learner has a unique talent which should be nurtured by a teacher. Educators make great contribution to the community, that is why four of my colleagues and I go the extra mile and offer free after-school tuition to low achieving learners. During the weekend, I visit my students’ homes, especially those whose performance is poor, and engage their parents to find out what challenges could be hindering good performance. It has paid off.
Last year, some of the students from the school I teach got a chance to showcase at the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair. They came first nationally in the public school category.
The Mathematical Science team also qualified to participate at the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair 2019 in Arizona, USA, for which they are currently preparing. Some of the students, back in 2017, won an award from The Royal Society of Chemistry after harnessing local plant life to generate electricity. These wins have contributed to an increase in students’ enrollment at the school and overall improvement of the students’ self-esteem, discipline and performance.
Tell us about your childhood. What is that one memory that stands out?
I was brought up in a family of teachers. My father is a retired primary school teacher and more than five close relatives are teachers. My mother died when I was 11. In school, I went through a number of challenges, challenges that some of my students are going through, such as lack of books and stationery.
Thinking back, the lessons I picked from my father have been my guiding light. He taught me to be humble, resilient, generous and God- fearing. This inspired me to perceive a teacher’s role as one to enlighten others on how to tackle various problems.
Besides what is provided in the curriculum, what other roles can teachers play to empower learners?
I have observed, in my 12 years of teaching, that learners have varying needs, partly due to their different backgrounds. Teachers should therefore go beyond classroom teaching and play other important roles such as counselling, promoting research/innovations, being the students’ role models and nurturing their talents. It is also important for them to promote values such as resilience, empathy, sharing and respect.
You dedicate a big portion of your salary to serve the community…
Yes. I belong to Franciscan Brothers, a religious order within the Catholic church. Austerity is our way of life. We believe that sharing and generosity foster freedom from proprietary attachments and instincts.
What do you enjoy most about what you do and what are some of the challenges you encounter?
When teaching, I like to incorporate ICT in my classes to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the lesson at hand. It therefore gives me immense joy to see the students being able to use different online platforms for research. It is not easy though, there are various challenges such as poor internet connectivity, frequent power outage and inadequate facilities. For instance, all upper primary classes (grade 4 to grade 8) depend on one desktop computer and one projector.
When it is all said and done, what do you want to be remembered for?
That I dedicated myself to serving my community without withholding material resources, including my income. I would also like to be remembered for my dedication, hard work and passionate belief in my students’ talents and abilities.