Michael Pope named one of top 50 finalists for Global Teacher Prize

For Immediate Release — March 26, 2020 | Camp Zama Schools

Michael Pope, STEM Teacher, Zama American Middle High School

Michael Pope, STEM Teacher, Zama American Middle High School

CAMP ZAMA — March 26, 2020 — Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) seventh grade STEM teacher Michael Pope, with Zama American Middle High School in Japan, has been named one of 50 finalists to receive the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. Now in its sixth year, the $1 million award is the largest prize of its kind. 

In partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Global Teacher Prize was set up to recognize a teacher who has made outstanding contribution to the teaching community. The award also seeks to highlight the important roles that teachers play in society.

Pope was selected from over 12,000 nominees and applicants from more than 140 countries around the world. 

“We are all extremely proud of Michael,” said DoDEA Director Tom Brady. “It is an honor for him to be recognized as among the best of the best from teachers all around the world. The students at Zama American Middle High School, and all of us at DoDEA, celebrate him for his expertise and dedication.”

Learning has always been Pope’s passion. His first ambition was to become a doctor. But he was told by his high school teachers that with his inquisitive nature, sense of humor, and desire to help his peers, he would make a great teacher.

At university, Pope had the opportunity to work as a math paraprofessional. When he first got the chance to teach a class, he was immediately captured by the spark in the eyes of students who understand something for the first time. Finishing his degree in middle school education, Pope began his journey as a teacher and is now inspiring military-connected students in Japan.

In his classroom, Pope uses the Global, Local, and Personal Model of teaching to help students make connections between topics. Students look for a global connection, discuss how that is affecting their local community or state, and then how it will affect them personally now or in the future. It engages an explorer’s mindset and encourages the natural curiosity of students to find their own answers. This approach resulted in his students transitioning from middle school to high school with a focus, a plan, and often an adult professional as a mentor.

In the DoDEA school system, being part of the military community brings its own unique challenges. Military teachers support the mission by providing more than just an education, they provide a safe place for children and serve as constant support system for the students. Pope carries out this important role each day.

“Teachers are the foundation of a community. We provide safety, security, focus, inspiration, and opportunity. Above all, we provide students with a safe place to love, learn, and prepare themselves for an ever changing and dynamic globally-connected digital world,” said Pope. “We teach more than lessons...we teach life.” 

In 2001, Pope was awarded a Fulbright Memorial Teacher Scholarship to travel to Japan and explore the educational system there. Along with his colleagues, Pope was asked to make two suggestions to the Japanese Ministry of Education to improve the quality of education for future Japanese students — one of which was the termination of mandatory Saturday school. Upon his return in 2003 to teach in Japan, Pope learned that the suggestion was put into law in 2002 resulting in one of his biggest contributions to public education. 

Pope is a two-time DoDEA state-level finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (2015 and 2017). He was awarded an IREX Teacher for Global Classroom Fellowship to Colombia in 2017, a National Education Association Foundation Global Learning Fellowship to South Africa in 2018, and a National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship to Svalbard in 2019 — the first overseas DoDEA educator to receive this honor.

Additionally, Pope was recently honored as the 2021 Pacific East District Teacher of the Year. 

If Pope wins the Global Teacher Prize, he plans to use the funds to help local empowerment programs like the entrepreneur program in his host school in Bucaramanga, Colombia and a butterfly art therapy project to reach students in township communities in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over the next 10 years, Pope would like to develop a global education trust to fund student and community empowering projects internationally and locally.   

In May, the top 50 finalists will be narrowed down to the top 10. The winner will be chosen from these 10 candidates by the Global Teacher Prize Academy and all 10 to be invited to the award ceremony slated for October in London. 

About the Global Teacher Prize

The Varkey Foundation in London set up the annual Global Teacher Prize in 2014 to enhance the respect, reward, and celebration of teachers around the world. It does this by shining a spotlight on great teachers and sharing their remarkable stories. 

The Global Teacher Prize serves to underline the importance of educators and the fact that, throughout the world, their efforts deserve to be recognized and celebrated. It seeks to acknowledge the impacts of the very best teachers — not only on their students but on the communities around them.

For more information about the Global Teacher Prize, visit: 


About DoDEA

DoDEA plans, directs, coordinates, and manages pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education programs for school-aged children of Department of Defense personnel who would otherwise not have access to high-quality public education. DoDEA schools are located in Europe, the Pacific, Western Asia, the Middle East, Cuba, the United States, Guam, and Puerto Rico. DoDEA also provides support and resources to Local Educational Activities throughout the United States that serve children of military families.