NEWFOUNDLAND - Striving to empower students to do good, has presented one Wallenpaupack South Elementary School teacher with an experience of a lifetime. 
           

Named one of the top 50 educators in the world, the Curriculum Coach at WSES Michael Soskil is in line to win the Global Teacher Prize. Sponsored by the Varkey Foundation, the Global Teacher Prize is a $1 million award that has been called the Nobel Prize for teachers.
           
If given the chance, Soskil said students can change the world. Last year, WSES fourth grade students worked with students in India, to stop child labor practices in Asia and Africa. Through such projects, Soskil said the students see what can be done, because they were part of the operation and the story isn’t simply coming from something a teacher is saying. 
           

Soskil spent the first year of his career teaching in Arizona, later moving back to teach at his alma mater. Now, 17 years later he has received a list of recognitions that include the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching last year and most recently, in November Soskil was named the 2015 Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. After receiving each award, Soskil has said he doesn’t do his job for the recognition. He did say, however, being named in the top 50 is exciting because it recognizes the innovation that is occurring at WSES.
           

The Global Teacher Prize is different than Soskil’s previous awards, he said, because this award is about promoting the profession of teaching globally, exposing students to world issues and showing them what is possible in the world. 
           

Unlike past awards, where he was nominated, Soskil applied for the Global Teacher Prize because of suggestions from some of his associates. Proud of all that is happening at WSES, Soskil said that the reason he applied was that he saw it as an opportunity to “share what we’re doing on a global stage.” 
           

The application was submitted in October and he learned of his placement in December. Soskil must wait until February to see if he is named to the top-10 list, which he admits is making him anxious. If named to the top 10, Soskil will travel to Dubai where the winner will be announced at the Global Education and Skills Forum in March.    

Competing against educators from 127 countries, Soskil said he is honored because he sees himself as the messenger that shares the experiences that occur at WSES. The teachers he works with are special, he said, because of their commitment to providing innovative education. He feels this is unique, he said. He explained that the WSES teachers aren’t satisfied with doing what has been done before and as a result, they look for “new ways to make education special for kids and to bring exceptional experiences.” 
           

Soskil also credits WSES Principal Mark Kirsten for trusting and supporting teachers to do what they feel is right for students. The support is essential, because from the autonomy “amazing things will happen.”  
           

Teaching students without relying on textbooks and standardized tests is important, Soskil said, because the joy the students feel and the success of the teachers’ lessons can only be determined by seeing what they do when they become adults. The successes have already been proven, he said, because of achievements graduates have made and that shows what is occurring at the school is “exceptional.” 
           

Teaching, Soskil said is one of the most important professions because everyone who has been successful was inspired by at least one teacher, to pursue what they were passionate about. Although teachers don’t have the power of parents, Soskil said teachers are the “next line of inspiration to show what’s possible.” 
           

Originally, Soskil wanted to be a teacher because it would allow him to coach and help kids gain life skills. His perception of being an educator changed however, when he served as a student teacher under his mentor, the late Anita Box at WSES. Watching Box, Soskil said he saw the impact that teachers have on students and how they are able to help children “develop into the people they can be.” Box was instrumental to him, because of how passionate she was about doing good for her students. Because of that, he feels Box guided him in his career. 

If Soskil wins the Global Teacher Prize, he plans to put a large portion of the $1 million towards “promoting student creativity and empowering students to do good in the world.” One way to do this, would be by providing every teacher at WSES with an IPad or Tablet. Plus, he would like schools in underprivileged areas, that don’t have internet connections and laptops, to have them so video conferencing and connections can happen and their learning experiences can be shared.  
           

Although a $1 million award is nice, Soskil said more than anything the reward he receives when he sees students do good, is the greatest reward he has already received. The many “transformative projects” that have occurred at WSES are significant, he said, because they haven’t cost anything, since Skype and other applications are free. Ultimately, it’s about “using the passions of people, of students, of teachers and getting together to help each other” that is important. 
           

If named to the top 10 list, Soskil plans to use the opportunity as a “platform to promote innovative teaching practices and all that’s good in education.”
           

To finish his career at WSES, Soskil said that “would be a dream come true.” The reason, he wants the school to be a model for “all that’s great and possible in education.” And now, he feels that is happening. 
           

If Soskil wins, he will be required to continue teaching for five years. That, he said, is almost more exciting than the money because, “I am blessed to have the greatest job in the world.”