A LONDON Irishman who swapped life working in finance to become a teacher has been shortlisted for a prestigious international teaching award.
Colin Hegarty, 34, grew up in Kilburn in a Clare and Mayo family, gave up his job at Deloitte in London to train as a maths teacher six years ago, after becoming inspired by a reading scheme he participated in to help children.
He now teaches students at Preston Manor School in Wembley, and has been recognised for his work by being included on a 10-strong shortlist for the Global Teacher Prize.
As the only British-based teacher to be nominated, he is now in the running to claim the annual $1million award (£700,000), which is presented to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.
"When I heard I'd been shortlisted it felt amazing, it was an amazing day," Mr Hegarty told The Irish Post. "All of the shortlisted teachers' stories were unbelievable. Stephen Hawking made the announcement, it's incredible to hear him say my name. I've watched the video ten times!"
"My students are ecstatic, they think it's really cool to see their teacher on TV, and I'm pleased that I get to be on TV for something positive, such as teaching. It's an incredible thing to share my love of learning and it's honestly the best job in the world. I'm glad I decided to become a teacher, I've never looked back."
Alongside business partner and fellow Irish native, Brian Arnold, the two teachers launched a website that enabled other teachers to teach maths.
The HegartyMaths website, which also runs videos on YouTube, is aimed to bring maths into the homes of students aged 8-17 around the world, for free.
Mr Hegarty created the site with the help of charity Shine, and it now boasts 5,000 users a day in 200 different countries.
The website is improved and updated through an internship programme, where 20 GCSE and A-level maths students trial questions. Mr Hegarty has created 1,500 online maths tutorial videos, which have been viewed almost 5 million times, and at least 65 schools in Britain have used the website's free resources.
Mr Arnold said that Mr Hegarty's shortlist had brought global attention to the website from teachers in countries such as South Africa.
"It's unbelievable recognition for Colin as a teacher, and we're all absolutely delighted for him," he said. "It's great as it also brings real focus to what we're trying to achieve, helping students get better at maths.
"We want to find the best way possible to provide the service, our aim is to make students much better at maths than they currently are and provide support that not everyone can afford. There are plenty of adults in Further Education so one of the next steps would be to provide an extra service for them."
Mr Hegarty was the first in his family to go to university, achieving a First Class Degree in Mathematics from Oxford. His parents worked as a builder and a cleaner, and he was brought up in a one-bedroom council flat in Kilburn.
He will travel to Dubai for the award ceremony next month where the winner of the Global Teacher Award will be announced.