This interview was conducted during the 2020-2021 winter break.
Omolola Ajayi is extra— at least that’s how she says her friends would describe her. It’s accurate. Extra in the way she teaches her students. Extra in the way she disciplines her students. She doesn’t just teach them the lesson, she teaches the whole student, helping them to build character and self esteem by showing students they have agency. When disciplining her students, she explains her why and gives the student an opportunity to correct her by asking the student, “Do you think I was wrong? Did I make a mistake? Do you think that I said something that is inaccurate?” She even explained her why in the interview. “I teach a lot of minority students. And the majority of them are African-American and just knowing our culture, and with how our parents, at least my parents and my parents' parents, how [they] discipline and how they corrected us and things like that. It was a silent thing. ‘No, I told you what to do.’ And if you didn't do it— there's no room for conversation. And in that moment you silence a child and now they have to bottle those emotions and bottled up emotions are never good.”
The value in allowing her students to respond isn't in letting the student explain their way out of punishment, but is actually a moment for students to practice using their voice. Omolola stated, "I want them to own how they feel and one way that they can own that is by being able to express, 'Hey, I feel this way as a result of you saying this.' That may not have been my intention to make them feel that certain way, but at least I've given them the space to say, 'Hey, Ms. Ajayi, you did this and this and it made me feel this way.' And so I also learned as an adult, what to do or what not to do, having those conversations helped me." She admits there were moments, very few, when she's been wrong and her students have let her know. Her ego, or lack thereof, allows her to own it and learn.
Learning and being extra is actually what led Omolola to become a teacher. She’s been so extra in her teaching that she was recognized by New Memphis as an Educator of Excellence in 2020.
Teaching isn’t the only way in which Ms. Ajayi is extra. She’s extra in her friendships too. She and three friends once pooled money together to buy their friend a Ninja Foodie. You can cook a whole chicken in that thing. Now that’s extra.
Even this interview is extra. It's extra long but extra good. You don't want to miss this conversation. Break it up if you have to, but listen. It is a must hear.
Join Project Teachers’ Lounge to stay updated on Omolola and other educators’ stories.
Follow Project Teachers' Lounge on Instagram for quick clips from Omolola’s interview.
Check out the playlist that pushes Omolola to keep going during this pandemic below.