Feature Story

Five teachers who make a difference around the world

Against all odds, teachers are making a difference in their students’ lives. Cisco honors five teachers around the world working to create an inclusive future for all students.
May 03, 2021

Written by: Sarah Hurd

Imagine having a job where you constantly need to adapt your work to accommodate the different learning styles of your staff or constituents. Then while doing this, imagine you’re trying to meet the expectations of many people outside of your organization, including parents and regulators. Finally, consider doing all of this without adequate funding while working countless hours of unpaid overtime. These are just a few of the challenges facing teachers around the world every day – in normal circumstances. Add on top a global pandemic, forcing teachers and students into lockdown, and the complexities skyrocket. 

Why do teachers do it? There are many individual reasons, but one thing is universal. They deeply care about their students and want to make a difference in the trajectory of their lives. And for this, they are nothing less than heroes. Teachers are arguably among the most important members of society. They have the power to give children purpose and provide them with the skills they need to become successful citizens of our world. They are the cornerstone on which we build inclusive, quality education. And since the pandemic began, over 90 million teachers around the world have adapted to meet the needs of their students, no matter how difficult. 

Years ago, famous children’s book author Michael Morpurgo prophetically wrote, “it’s the teacher that makes the difference, not the classroom.” How right he is. In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, we are honoring five teachers and instructors around the world who are positively impacting the lives of their students.

Striving to make students feel special 

Christine Efferding is a bright, young teacher at Dubuque Community School District in her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. She joined the district last year after teaching high school in Qingdao, China to students aspiring to attend American universities. Christine joined New Teacher Center’s (NTC) mentorship program to expand her skills and support her professional growth as an educator. A Cisco nonprofit partner, NTC is dedicated to disrupting the predictability of educational inequities for systemically underserved students by accelerating educator effectiveness.. Always looking to improve herself, Christine is also pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling and preventative mental health.

When asked what her favorite part of teaching is she says, “The best part about teaching is the relationships formed with students and watching them succeed.” And her NTC mentor Tracy Gurdak can’t say enough good things about her. “Christine is a wonderful young teacher. She truly gets to know each of her students and is constantly striving to make each of them feel special,” says Tracy.

Leveling up underserved communities

Joel Gogwim is much more than a teacher. Born in Dungung, a small agricultural village in Plateau State of Nigeria, Joel is also a mentor and role model to his many students at the University of Jos in Jos, Nigeria. For over 17 years, he has been a Cisco Networking Academy instructor and deputy director of ICT at the university, empowering his students with the skills they need to secure high-paying jobs in tech. 

“I’m leveraging the power of the internet and education to transform the least privileged communities – making it possible for my students to favorably compete with privileged communities and people around the globe. This has been my big dream for over two decades that has served as my strong inspiration,” says Joel. And it’s clear he is making an impact. Sule Nelson, one of his current Networking Academy students, explains, “Mr. Gogwim is a mentor to me. I attribute how much I know to him. He teaches from experience and the deep knowledge and love for his profession. He's not just a teacher but a practitioner of what he teaches. Learning from Gogwim makes you become a professional.”

Empowering students with real-world job skills  

Vinitha, or ‘Vini’ (as her students call her), Nithianandam is an associate professor of cybersecurity and Cisco Networking Academy instructor at The Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). For over 35 years, she has been teaching technology courses at the college level, providing her students with the real-life skills and mentorship they need to pursue a career in tech. “I am passionate about training young college students for professional careers. Every college student is unique, and I like to be a part of the academic success of students,” says Vini. 

She has touched so many of her students’ lives, inspiring them to do more. Marie Kamga is one such student. Vini encouraged her to join the Women in Technology club at CCBC, where she got the emotional support she needed to pursue a career in the male-dominated field of cybersecurity. “The lessons that Ms. Vini has taught me are invaluable. Not only have they strengthened the foundation of my life, but they are the building blocks of my future,” says Marie.  

Expanding career opportunities for persons with disabilities

Many students at Curtin University in Australia know Iain Murray as a Cisco Networking Academy instructor, which he’s been for over 17 years. But what most people don’t know is that in 2001 he established Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired (CAVI). What started out as a short-term research project with only five students has grown into a global training program, with nearly 300 students from partner organizations in India, Sri Lanka, The United Kingdom, South Africa, and Myanmar. The program has a nearly 100 percent success rate, with students learning the skills they need to secure jobs in the technology sector. “What’s rewarding is that you hear back from your students and they’re running the companies,” says Iain. 

Josh Giblett, one of Iain’s former CAVI students and an e-learning officer at North Metropolitan TAFE in Perth, Australia, has kept in touch with Iain years after graduating Curtin. “Over the years, Iain has taught me a great deal. The skills he taught me have had a huge impact on me gaining and sustaining employment in the IT industry. Skills like perseverance and always looking out for others,” says Josh.

Empowering multilingual learners and their families

Amy Collinge is always looking to expand opportunities for multilingual learners. In fact, she’s not afraid to say she’s “obsessed.” For over 15 years, she has been a teacher and bilingual specialist in school districts across Arizona, Oregon, and Idaho. 

Seeing firsthand the difference parent engagement makes, especially for students from families where English is a second language, Amy turned to one of Cisco’s nonprofit partners, TalkingPoints, to help bridge the language divide. A digital platform that translates messages into over 100 languages, TalkingPoints was integral to helping her school quickly and easily communicate with their multilingual families when the pandemic began. Amy has been so happy with the technology that she even joined the organization’s teacher advisory panel. “Amy is always looking to improve learning outcomes for her students -- especially for those whose home language is not English,” says Heejae Lim, founder and CEO of TalkingPoints.

To learn about Cisco’s investment in education, visit our Learning and Digital Skills Development page.

Also visit: Teachers our everyday heroes.