Andria Zafirakou, a teacher at Alperton Community School in Brent, north-west London, has made it onto the shortlist for the fourth annual Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.
Ms Zafirakou said she decided to submit an application after reading about it.
“When you read about why they are doing this – sharing good practice, raising the profile of teachers and how fundamental they are in society – that was why I wanted to apply,” she told the Press Association.
The pupils at Ms Zafirakou’s inner-city school, which is in one of the poorest areas of the country, come from a variety of backgrounds.
She has learnt how to say basic greetings in many of the 35 languages spoken at the school, including Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and Portuguese, to help parents feel welcome and included.
“If you have somebody who can connect with you and appreciate your background, then that’s special,” she said.
She added that greeting someone in their language “helps to break down barriers and enables families to engage more in the school community”.
“In fact it’s often so crowded and noisy I’ve had students tell me they have to do their homework in the bathroom, just to grab a few moments alone so they can concentrate.
“I also found that some were being forced to play truant to cook meals in the allocated time slot they were permitted to use their shared home kitchen.
“Others could not participate in extracurricular activities after school because they had to take on parental responsibilities like collecting their brothers and sisters from other schools.
“This included giving them access to a quiet place to do their art work, as well as time to participate in extracurricular activities.”
In a video message announcing the nominations, Bill Gates paid tribute to the finalists, saying research has shown that a great teacher can be “the most important factor” in whether students get a great education.
The finalists were chosen partly for their proven abilities in inspiring students and helping them to learn, Mr Gates said.
“Just as important, these teachers are leaders who have innovated in the classroom and mentored their colleagues,” he added.
“They have demonstrated the kind of collaboration – teachers and schools working together – that can give all students the opportunity to get a great education.”
The other finalists, drawn from 30,000 entries from 173 countries, are from Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, Philippines, United States, Brazil, Belgium, Australia and Norway.
The award will be presented at a ceremony in Dubai on Sunday March 18.