More often than not, they say that a teacher’s reward is in heaven. For Chika Okoroafor-Aneke, it is a different ball game. She seems to have found her own reward here on earth as well as finding fulfillment in every minute she spends with children.
Life for her is all about teaching and helping to mould children’s character towards becoming leaders of tomorrow. For over two decades and still counting, Aneke has dedicated her life to this cause.
She holds a postgraduate certificate of education in Secondary Science, and the UK National Professional Qualification for Headship, which is one of the highest qualifications in the world for head teachers
She told Daily Sun recently in an interview that she has not only found a fulfilling career in teaching but it is a calling for her: “I have dedicated my entire life to promoting the love of learning both in and out of the classroom.”
Her specialty revolves about the mental health of children and parents through mindful learning.
What attracted you to teaching?
My parents told me that, as a little girl, I always played school; family members were my students and I played the principal. I also used to dance and dress up a lot. After university, I saw an advert for science teachers of which there was a shortage in the United Kingdom at that time, and I applied. I was one of those enrolled in a revolutionary method of teacher training called School Centred Initial Teachers Training (SCITT).
Like a teaching apprenticeship, we worked beside teachers. Because teachers were overstretched, we were often given tasks and expected to be accountable, just like the fulltime teacher, not as a trainee. I and many of my graduating class have been extremely successful teachers because of the solid beginning.
You help enhance the mental health of children and parents through mindful learning. Could you give us an insight on mental health?
In my experience as a teacher in the education sector, in management of large organisations and businesses, and in my experience with the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, I have seen many common trends and discovered that mental health is not any different from our physical health. Just like we try to prevent the physical health from deteriorating, it is equally important to prevent mental illness and injury.
Many people do not understand how to take care of their mental health. Mental health is taking care of your emotions, your thoughts and how they connect to your body and more. If you do not look after your mental health, it will cause disease.
At Learnomic, my education consultancy platform, we are the only UK-trained and certified providers of mindful learning in Nigeria. We work with children (0-18 years) adults, families, schools, career professionals, business owners and organisations.
In fact, all humans can benefit from a mindful learning journey. It is a way to change society.
What exactly is mindful learning and why is it important?
The idea of mindful learning is based on the premise that learning is not about memorizing but it is about being mindful and consciously understanding the “why” and having an unbiased awareness to take conscious actions based on that understanding.
Human beings are often in autopilot mode. All our lives, we have been socialized to do things in certain ways simply because, for generations, that’s how it is been done. So, we memorize systems of “being” without understanding why, and what those implications have for our individual lives.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to doing things. This is wh, oftentimes, people suffer depression, agitation, and poor self-image, which, ultimately, affects their capacity to learn, because we are constantly forcing ourselves to see or do things from that universal standard when, in reality, we are all unique individuals with unique circumstances, who need unique approaches to learning and doing things.
Our human condition of needing to be liked, popular and perfect at all we do has hijacked our attention. Mindful learning is a learning strategy that encourages paying attention in the present moment on purpose, and without judgment of the past or assumptions about the future.
When we mindfully pay attention to the situation at hand in the present, free of judgment, this is when true learning occurs.
What innovative reforms do you think Nigerian schools should implement as students grapple with the new normal of learning?
In the UK, most schools have trained mindfulness peripatetic teachers (teachers that come in to teach just mindfulness). Not everyone can teach it. It can be quite unbeneficial for it to be taught by just any teacher or individual. Worldwide, mindful learning is proving scientifically to benefit so many, in so many ways. Those who make mindful investment can testify to quite remarkable transformations.
What challenges have you experienced in your implementation of mindful learning?
It is fear and nonchalance. We read the books, talk the talk, but underestimate the importance of the practice. Those who lead and control know and practice mindful learning and use it against those unaware. It is the application of human psychology. Mental wellbeing is stigmatized, seems only for the broken.
Learnomic believes health is wealth and that we are all a body and a mind that needs to be proactively kept balanced, and at ease to prevent disease. Society is successful yet more sad and sick. There is a reason 10 to 14-year-olds now are the largest clinically depressed age group. It used to be 40-plus. We are in a mental health crisis and mindful learning can help.
What advice would you give parents and children about protecting their mental health during these uncertain times?
Be kind and compassionate to yourself. There is no instruction manual for parenting in a pandemic. We are all just learning as we go along. Don’t give yourself a hard time over anything. Be open-minded. Embrace change. Be patient with your children.
They are doing their best to understand why they have been stuck at home, and dealing with the unusual situation we are all in. Keep this in mind, if your children suddenly become unruly.
Their whole world has changed abruptly and they are trying to understand this new reality. Patiently sit and talk with them about their feelings and emotions. Do the same with your husband or wife.
Mothers and fathers should also allocate some time for self-care and self-reflection. Pause. Sit with your feelings. Acknowledge them and let them go.
How would you describe your career trajectory?
Before attending university, I worked for high-street retail companies and family health and beauty business. After university, I started teacher training. I worked in London for 10 years at an acclaimed award-winning inner-city school, Fulham Cross School.
A year after my father’s death, I was asked to help set up a grassroots international standard boarding school, Brookstone Secondary School. This project was an AMSCO initiative with the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), the IFC. World Bank, Stitching Foundation, and African Development Bank wre also involved. It was a semi-diplomatic position and we won AMSCO project of 2006. It was time for me to get married and have my children, so, a career break was taken. I then worked with Pinefields School and College, The Learning Place, Ikoyi Nursery, and consulted for popular international schools.
What are some of the most memorable moments of your life and career?
There have been so many memorable moments that have shaped my life and career. I will mention a few: There was a time in my career when I was asked, ‘why do you do so many roles and why do you earn such a high salary?’
That was the moment I knew I was not valued in a job and that it was time to move on. I have always known my value and will never undersell myself.
Another memorable moment was about 13 years ago, during a trying period in my life, after the death of my father, when I went to Cuba for some ‘me’ time. I was headhunted to work with a couple that was setting up a school in Port Harcourt. The project was part of UNDP and AMSCO initiative and I was selected to be a diplomatic technical educational expert at the school.
Due to the innovative ideas and practices I helped institute during this period, it was said that my two years of service was like 20 years of school leadership experience and knowledge.
In fact, a country’s government is speculated to have used one of such experiences as a reference to help inform school education policy. This AMSCO project was recognized by the African Training and Management Services Project, a joint project of the UNDP, the International Finance Corporation, Stichting Foundation and African Development Bank as a project of the year 2006.
Attending my NPQH – Institute of Education London (IOE) graduation and mindfully giving birth to my daughter, in the same year, was also a memorable time I treasure.
I changed some medical professionals’ practice forever when they experienced first-hand the power of a mindful birth. This was a very memorable time for me. I have a picture of me holding my daughter at my graduation. Getting married was also a result of another personal mindful journey, and it still gives me goose bumps when I remember. Having my second child and involving my husband in the mindful learning journey is another unforgettable part of my life.