Adeola Adedunke Adeyemi recently won the 2023 Maltina Teacher of the Year award. She is a public school teacher at Keke Senior High School, Lagos and a multiple award winning teacher and founder of Girls Allowed Hub, Every Child Counts Club and the convener of the Secure Your Future Campaign. In this interview, she speaks about her feats, public school teachers and how the learning crisis can be addressed among other things.
Tell us briefly about yourself and your clubs
I am renowned for my exceptional contributions to advancing quality education and creating safe learning environments. As the founder of Girls Allowed Hub, Every Child Counts Club, and the convener of the Secure Your Future Campaign, I have consistently demonstrated my commitment to empowering students and fostering their success. My dedicated mentorship has resulted in numerous students excelling in over 150 local and international competitions. I have been listed as one of the 100 Change Makers in Nigeria, further highlighting my significant impact and influence in the field of education.
I have presented scholarly papers at renowned conferences and summits. Additionally, my passion for literature shines through my extensive literary pursuits; I am an avid reader, accomplished scriptwriter, and have written and directed over 50 plays and poems. Notably, one of my outstanding works was performed during the Lagos at 50 celebration, showcasing my exceptional talent. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge, I have earned over a hundred international certifications, reflecting my unwavering commitment to continuous professional growth and expertise in my field.
You have won multiple awards as a teacher, tell us about it.
I have been recognised as a multi-award-winning educator, I have been honoured with the JCI Outstanding Young Person in Nigeria Award and currently hold the prestigious title of Overall Best Teacher in Lagos and Nigeria. I also received the esteemed Inspirational Teacher of the Year Award. Furthermore, in 2021, I was distinguished as one of the Top 50 Teachers in the World by the prestigious Global Teacher Prize. I am not only a remarkable teacher but also a respected contributor to academic discourse.
Throughout my teaching career, I have received numerous awards, but I want to emphasise that they were never my primary focus. These recognitions came as a result of my passion for teaching and my commitment to making a positive impact. While the awards have motivated me, my consistency in teaching is driven by my genuine love for my students and education. Truthfully, my dedication lies in the positive influence I aim to have on my students and the community.
How has it been winning these awards?
Winning these awards has been a humbling and rewarding experience. They serve as external validation of my dedication to teaching and the positive impact I strive to make in education. While the awards themselves are a source of motivation, the real satisfaction comes from knowing that my work has made a difference in the lives of my students and the broader education community. These awards have opened doors for me to connect with other educators and share best practices, ultimately helping me become a better teacher. Overall, it has been a journey of growth, learning, and a reminder of the importance of staying true to my passion for education.
How has that changed your life?
Winning these awards has had a profound impact on my life in several ways. Firstly, it represents a personal triumph over my struggle with imposter syndrome, providing validation for my dedication. Additionally, it has facilitated access to new opportunities and connections that were previously out of reach, enhancing various aspects of my life, from career advancements to networking opportunities.
The most substantial impact has been on my role as an educator and mentor. My students have witnessed firsthand the power of perseverance and dedication. By sharing my journey, I have exemplified the idea that “impossible is nothing” when one invests their heart and soul into their pursuits. This shift in perspective among my students stands as the most gratifying outcome of winning these awards, as it empowers them to pursue greatness in their own endeavors with renewed determination and belief in their capabilities.
What do you think you are doing that gives you an edge over other teachers?
I believe my unique edge as a teacher lies in my perspective. While I recognise that every teacher is doing exceptionally well in their own time, I approach my role without unnecessary pressure. I understand that not every competition or endeavours result in victory, and I do not let the inevitable “nos” deter me.
My focus is not solely on competing but on passionately pursuing what I love. Whether I win or not, the important part is the journey of learning and growth. If I am found worthy of celebration, that is wonderful, but I fully embrace the idea that in life, we either win or learn, and both outcomes contribute to my continuous development as an educator.
Do you think teaching in a public school plays a role in your achievements?
While I acknowledge the fact that teaching in a public school has its peculiarities and perhaps more challenges, I do not believe it plays a significant role in my achievements. I have taught in both public and private schools with the same mindset. The primary goal of every educator, regardless of the sector, is to inspire their students to become the best version of themselves. Whether in the public or private sector, the aim is to motivate students to reach their milestones.
It is important to note that a teacher’s dedication and effectiveness should remain consistent across different settings. I have experience in both sectors, and I can confidently say that my commitment and passion for teaching remain unwavering. I know of teachers in the private sector making significant achievements, just as there are those in the public sector who are making and breaking records. Ultimately, it is the teacher’s dedication and approach that matter most, rather than the specific type of school they teach in.”
As a female, what challenges do you encounter in carrying out your duty?
I am fortunate to work in Lagos State, where gender parity is a priority, and both genders have equal opportunities to excel in their duties. I have personally not encountered any significant gender-related challenges in carrying out my responsibilities. Here, promotions and opportunities are based on industry, dedication and passion, rather than gender bias. However, it is essential to acknowledge that experiences may vary, and this is not to invalidate the experiences of others.
Are you planning on applying for the Global Teacher Prize and why?
No! I actually applied for the Global Teacher Prize in 2021 and had the honour of being selected as one of the Top 50 Teachers. While that was an incredible recognition of my work, I believe it is essential to continue focusing on my role as an educator and mentor, striving to make a meaningful impact.
There is a report that Nigeria is in a learning crisis considering over 70 per cent not being able to read and write, who is to be blamed for it, the teachers or the system? And why?
The learning crisis in Nigeria calls for a nuanced perspective that acknowledges shared responsibility between both the education system and teachers. The education system struggles with systemic challenges, including insufficient funding, inadequate infrastructure, and disparities in access to quality education, all of which impact learning outcomes. Furthermore, the learning crisis is made worse by the neglect of special education within the education system, resulting in students with learning challenges often being overlooked. The lack of specialised teacher training and insufficient resources for students with disabilities compounds the issue.
Teachers, on the other hand, play a central role in the learning process. Effective teaching methods, ongoing professional development, and accountability are key factors in enhancing student outcomes, and some teachers are found wanting in these aspects.
To comprehensively address the learning crisis, a holistic approach is important. This includes implementing systemic reforms within the education system, increasing financial investment, improving teacher training and support and prioritising inclusivity and special education to ensure that students with diverse learning needs receive the tailored assistance they require. Collaboration among policymakers, educators, and communities is also essential to drive positive change and improve learning outcomes for all.
What is your assessment of public school teachers in the country?
Public school teachers exhibit a remarkable blend of qualities that make them an integral part of our education system. We have proven to be resilient, proactive, hardworking and passionate about our jobs. Gone are the days when teaching in public schools was considered unattractive; today, we have a cohort of dedicated educators who have shattered records and can compete favourably with their peers at a global level. Our commitment to nurturing the next generation of leaders is evident and commendable.
However, it is essential to acknowledge that, like any profession, there can be variations in performance among public school teachers. While many excel, there are some who may not meet the same standards. This diversity in performance is not unique to teaching but exists in various fields. The key lies in continuous improvement, support, and professional development to ensure that all teachers have the opportunity to reach their full potential and, in turn, provide the best education possible to our students.
In your opinion how can the government attract more hands into the profession, especially women?
To attract more individuals, particularly women, into the teaching profession, the government should prioritise a multifaceted approach. Firstly, rebranding the teaching profession is essential. Education should be portrayed as the cornerstone of societal progress, with teachers at the forefront of shaping future generations. Highlighting the personal fulfilment, job security and the invaluable impact teachers have on their communities can make teaching a more appealing career choice.
Moreover, the government can make teaching more attractive from the very beginning by offering financial incentives. This could involve providing grants or scholarships for students studying education at the university level. Reducing the financial burden of education can make teaching a viable option for a broader range of aspiring educators. Moreover, fostering partnerships with other countries for teacher exchange programmes can offer teachers valuable international experiences without the need to leave their home country in search of better opportunities. This not only enriches their careers but also makes the teaching profession more dynamic and appealing. By implementing these strategies, governments can inspire more individuals, including women, to consider teaching as a fulfilling and impactful career path.