For the Media

Honoring Educators Near and Far: The NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence Inspires Educator Awards Program in West Africa

Honoring Educators Near and Far: The NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence Inspires Educator Awards Program in West Africa

In a small country in West Africa, educators are being recognized and celebrated in a brand new way—with a national awards program that takes its inspiration from The NEA Foundation’s Travelers Awards for Teaching Excellence (ATE). All the way across the Atlantic Ocean from the Foundation’s headquarters, the Gambia Teacher Prize had its inaugural ceremony on February 15, 2024.

The founder of the Gambia Teacher Prize, Alhassan Susso, is a public school educator in New York City who received The NEA Foundation’s top educator award in 2020. Susso, who is an immigrant from The Gambia, was so inspired by his experience with the Foundation’s awards program and ceremony that he decided to take the spirit of celebrating educators to his home country.

“What The NEA Foundation does in highlighting the work of teachers across the country is truly inspiring,” said Susso. “When I went to The Gambia, I realized that the teacher morale was very low, and one of the ways I thought I could help was to do something similar to what The NEA Foundation does in uplifting teachers across the country.”

Susso formed a nonprofit organization called the Namie Foundation, and together with the Gambia Ministry of Education, the Gambia Teachers’ Union, and the U.S. Embassy, the Namie Foundation established the Gambia Teacher Prize, an awards program that follows a similar format as The NEA Foundation’s ATE.

The NEA Foundation’s ATE program honors educator awardees from across the United States every year, up to one educator per state. Of the educator awardees, five are selected for additional recognition with the Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence. Those five educators are the subjects of mini documentary films that showcase their teaching practices, and one is chosen for the top honor, the NEA Member Benefits Award.

Similarly, the Gambia Teacher Prize recognizes outstanding educators from each of the seven regions of The Gambia. The awardee from each region will be the subject of a mini documentary about their teaching practice. Of those seven educator awardees, one is selected to receive the National Teacher Award.

The inaugural Gambia Teacher Prize ceremony was attended by around 350 people, including the Vice President and First Lady of the Gambia, the Minister of Basic and Secondary Education, and the U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia.

“We extend our deepest gratitude to Mr. Susso for his remarkable efforts and for bringing this prestigious recognition to the Gambia,” said Minister of Basic and Secondary Education Claudiana Cole. “This esteemed award represents the pinnacle of achievement within our teaching community.”

Alhassan Susso speaking at the inaugural Gambia Teacher Prize ceremony

From the United States to The Gambia: Fostering Cross-Continental Cultural Exchange

As a New York public school educator and immigrant, Susso also saw an opportunity to foster cross-cultural exchange between the two countries he calls home. With grant support from The NEA Foundation, 27 American educators from across the United States travelled with Susso to The Gambia to attend the inaugural Gambia Teacher Prize ceremony and engage in a cross-cultural exchange.

The American educators met with the Gambian awardees to exchange insights on best teaching practices, common challenges, and experiences. Such cross-cultural dialogues provide enriching opportunities for educators to broaden their perspectives and refine their teaching methods, ultimately benefiting students by fostering a globalized approach to education. The American educator cohort also took in aspects of Gambian history and culture, visiting historical sites and learning about the roots of the Atlantic slave trade.

Susso believes that this type of cultural exchange will be increasingly critical for educators as the world becomes more interconnected.

“I am a big believer of one thing: we fear what we do not understand,” Susso said. “But when we take time to learn each other’s stories and have an understanding of where people are coming from, it gives us a deep sense of understanding of how to interact with each other.”

Now back in the classroom in New York, Susso said that the awards ceremony and experiences in The Gambia have filled him with renewed energy. It’s his hope that the awards program inspires high regard for the teaching profession in his home country and beyond.

“What I’m hoping that the audience of the Gambia Teacher Prize sees is that the educators who go above and beyond to ensure that the next generation is taken care of are being recognized and celebrated for their incredible efforts,” said Susso. “And hopefully their stories can serve as an inspiration for a child thinking, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ Well, the best thing you could ever do with your life is to be in this profession. Because if you do it right, you know for sure you certainly will leave a legacy, and I can’t think of a much better profession to be a part of than that.”