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Chika Okorafor Aneke: I am a creative ‘semi-tiger’ mum
Chika Okorafor Aneke is passionate about everything that affects children. Watching children play, work and excel are the things that occupy her time. In this interview with YETUNDE OLADEINDE, she opens up on how it all started in the UK, working in the sector for over 24 years as a child protection officer and passion for children’s mental health.
Tell us how your passion for teaching started?
Well my parents would tell you that as a little girl I always played, ‘schools.’ Family members were the students and I was the principal!
I always tell parents to watch their children when they play, as often, it shows their life passion and God-given talents.
After my University education, I saw an advert for Science teachers, of which there was a shortage in UK at that time, and I applied. We also got paid, as the training was a revolutionary method of teacher training, it was called School Centred Initial Teachers Training (SCITT). It was like a teaching apprenticeship. We worked beside teachers, but as we know, teachers are over stretched, so we often were given tasks and were expected to be accountable, just like any other teacher, not as a trainee. It certainly was not for the faint-hearted. I know myself and many of my graduating class have been extremely successful teachers and leaders, thanks this solid beginning.
What was it like at the beginning?
The pathway I chose was different from the traditional Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) based on University and school placements. I was in school from day one. It was so hard! I remember on my first day being given a class of 13 year olds to handle, unsupervised. It was brutal, but I learnt very fast. In the UK, this NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) training was for a year, and until this training had been passed successfully, you could not be considered a qualified teacher.
This NQT year is always very difficult and stressful, however; my method of training meant I knew what to expect and did not find it as shocking as most.
It also enabled me to stay in the profession when so many through no fault of their own find the demands inhuman.
I used to leave school emotionally, physically and mentally drained. My personal life suffered, but teaching is my passion so it came first.
What was the turning point for you?
One day I remember being stopped by my ‘head teacher’ boss and she removed all my books I was carrying to the car one Friday, which I intended to review over the weekend.
She told me to go home and rest. This was the day I learnt kind and compassionate self-care and work life balance. I also treasured the holidays, because we really earned them. Teachers are like sunflowers they rejuvenate and grow during the summer.
Tell us about the things that inspired you to go into children’s mental health?
Having worked with children and families for over 24 years, I became accustomed to having an in-depth understanding of children’s needs. I was also a child protection officer. This meant often the children and adults would talk to me and gain advice and guidance. Sometimes I had to take action with relevant services to protect a child.
I taught teenagers before I even became a mother myself! I also taught subjects that often had sensitive content. As a result, I experienced a lot regarding children’s mental health.
It is in my nature to always improve my skills and gain new ones, and so I trained in many different areas to ensure I could help in the best way I could.
Children’s mental health is such an important area, especially here in Nigeria with such a young population. In the UK, children as young as 10 years old are being diagnosed with mental health issue, clinical depression. 1 in 7 adults with mental health issues wished they had gotten intervention at a younger age.
What are the other things that you have done in the sector?
I am trained to teach mindfulness to Children in school in the UK and worldwide. I’m also trained to teach children, teens and adults as a Mindfulness Life Coach.
Mindfulness has been introduced to most schools. At the Nursery and Secondary levels, I help teach children and adults in educational settings how to look after their mental health before any problem or ‘illness’ manifests, to maybe prevent or help reduce mental issues later in life.
Personally I was a ‘Hypnobirthing mum’, for both my children and work now with women who want a ‘relaxed’ pregnancy programme – this is a method of learning to stay relaxed during pregnancy and childbirth. I read affirmations to myself and the baby, learnt birth breathing, worked with my husband on how he could help during labour, and pre-planned my birth experience. Princess Kate used this method for all her pregnancies. My pregnancy, birth and labour experience and information were really memorable because of this process.
Dance and especially ‘Psychotherapeutic Dance ‘ as a therapy, is another area of passion for me. I have always loved aromatherapy oils and their therapeutic effects for children and adults, so I trained to be an aromatherapist.
In addition, I am also trained in many therapeutic therapies such as cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT), Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), brain and learning acceleration and memory techniques, mindmapping, structured learning and many other practices to help the education of all, as we are all unique.
Let’s talk about some memorable moments in 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 I was asked, ‘why do you do so many roles and why do you earn only X amount?’ This was the moment I knew I was not valued on a current job and that it was time to move on after 10 years. 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. 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 United Nations (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 2 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 (ATMS) Project, a joint project of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Stichting Foundation and African Development Bank (AfDB) as a project of the year 2006.
Attending my NPQH – Institute of Education London (IOE) graduation and giving birth to my daughter, in same year! This was also a very memorable time for me. I have a picture of me holding her at my graduation. Priceless!
Getting married and having my children is an unforgettable part of my life. At a point I thought this was not part of my destiny. I do know that if you don’t make a change yourself, change will not happen.
Learning to be okay with not having everything at once and being happy and grateful with the NOW is so key in life. And I encourage every woman to embrace this.
Tell us about your experience mentoring children?
Children are amazing, pure souls who tell you the truth, not what you want to hear. When a teacher walks into a class, the students in 5 minutes have worked out what type of person you are.
They will know and act accordingly. If you are true, they will forgive you for anything. I have so many positives experiences and thousands of footprints on my heart. I am proud of being a positive female role model. When I bump into families and children worldwide that I have taught, it is an amazing priceless feeling. Many get in touch through social media. In fact, one of my former students did get in touch the other day to tell me that after 22 years again, I had given her strength to make a major positive life change.
Last year in Florence, Italy, we by total chance bumped into parents of children I taught in 2006. We were shocked, because I have a different hair colour now, and was wearing a hat and quite a bit chubbier, but they still recognized me. It was lovely to introduce them to my own children and my mum in 2019.
I wish my alumni students and parents all would get in touch just so we can reminisce and laugh. That would be pure priceless happiness.
I keep in touch with the first group of students I ever taught as a science teacher. It’s wonderful! Many are doctors and nurses.
Chika Okorafor Aneke: I am a creative ‘semi-tiger’ mum