When Vibeke Greby Schmidt started teaching her primary class at Bavnehøj School in Copenhagen as a Teach First Danmark Fellow, she said her students “had this horrible self-perception of being a class that nobody liked.” Her main goal therefore, was to convince her students that she, and all their teachers, really do believe in them.
Last month, Vibeke got some pretty incredible proof that she’d achieved her goal – her students had written in to Politiken, Denmark’s largest newspaper, to nominate Vibeke for a teaching award. But that wasn’t all–Vibeke was actually awarded the prize her students, colleagues and school had nominated her for, and was named one of nine Politiken Educational Prize winners.
“I spent so much time trying to convince them that we [the teachers] actually like them, and now they’re writing in a public newspaper ‘Our teacher believes in me’ so I think they’re convinced!” she says.
The award is a testament to the incredible efforts Vibeke has put in to building relationships with her students, from staying after school to help them with their homework to spending her breaks hanging out with them to get to know them better. “First and foremost, Vibeke sees her students as they are - and she believes in them,” wrote the Politiken Educational Prize judging panel in a description of her work.
Vibeke says the close bond she has formed with her students came as surprise to her, but after getting to know her students, she understands why. Some of them “didn’t have any role models in their life and they are very hungry for praise and anyone who believes in them,” she explains. “So as long as they felt I wanted them, they received it well, and they were very open to it.”
Vibeke’s students greeted the news that she had won the award with shouts of joy and excitement. “They were really happy,” Vibeke says. “It’s really nice that they had a TV interview and they had the courage to stand in front of the whole class and talk about why they nominated me– even the students who are usually afraid to present.”
While her award is certainly a concrete example of the impact Vibeke has made, watching her students continue to learn and grow is even more meaningful. As for the prize money that accompanied the award, Vibeke will be sharing it with the entire class. Her students are planning to vote on how to spend it, but Vibeke has a hunch they’ll use it for a survival trip to the woods.
Learn more about Teach First Danmark here.