Written by the amazing Rona Cheeseman, Alumni Relations at the University of Surrey (aka the best university in the world)
Becoming Deputy Head of 6th Form at the age of 23 is a huge achievement for alumna Kanayo Dike-Oduah – even more so because when she graduated just two years ago with a degree in Psychology she had no plans to enter the teaching profession.
Kanayo was initially drawn to the area of organisational psychology but, after spending a month in China in a business environment, realised she didn’t feel fulfilled.
“I felt my potential wasn’t being tapped and it was only then that I thought about teaching,” she said. “Psychology has been my love since GCSEs, and I always enjoyed helping out university friends with any problem areas. However, it was my former psychology teacher who told me she had never had any doubts where my future lay.”
Kanayo teaches the subject to 14 to 19-year-olds in Croydon and is passionate about inspiring her students to succeed.
“I love it when my pupils have that light bulb moment when they finally get something and become really engaged. I am teaching future doctors, solicitors, other professionals, mums, dads – I am a significant part of their journey and I hope they will remember me as they progress.”
For this inspirational approach to her teaching and early career success, Kanayo has been named a Young Achiever of the Year in the Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Awards 2016.
Yet, it could have been very different for Kanayo. Growing up in a single-parent family in south London, she was told that children from her background did not achieve. Aged 14, Kanayo read about a theory called the ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’, where someone is given a label and, consequently, lives up to it. In her own words, she ‘decided to give herself the label of an achiever’.
And she has certainly done just that. Alongside her teaching success, Kanayo also won the Young Achiever of the Year by Women for Africa 2016 whose aim is to celebrate and empower women from African countries.
She also won the Black Youth Achievement Award in education in 2011 and was recognised as a Future Leader for 2014/15 which celebrates 100 of the UK’s most outstanding black students. Kanayo was awarded Surrey’s Internationalisation Award for the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences at her graduation in 2015 for her international work – during her time at Surrey, Kanayo wrote an academic paper on mental illness following volunteer work at a mental institution in Beijing and has traveled to Ghana to teach and support young people.
Kanayo continues to set high goals for herself and, ultimately, would like to work in the education sector at government level with the influence to shape policies and direction.
“I am passionate about curriculum design – one that focuses on the student journey, not just their academic ability,” she said. “We should be developing well-rounded young people, to help them set goals and reach them but always remembering that the journey is as important as the destination.”
How did it feel to learn you had won the award?
It felt amazing to be recognised as I only graduated in 2015. I felt really proud although I could have killed my mum as I didn’t know she had nominated me!
What attracted you to choose to study Psychology at Surrey?
I chose Surrey as it was relatively close to home in Croydon but still far enough to have some independence. When I visited, I immediately felt like it was a real community where everyone knew each other and I liked that feeling.
Psychology has been my love since GCSEs. I did well at A Level and knew I had to study it; there was no other choice.
What were the best things about your course?
The best part was being able to conduct my own research and the placement year was amazing and extended my university experience. The staff were always ready to sacrifice their time to help their students.
How did your professional training year influence your career?
I spent part of the year in China at Astronaut China; a marketing company specialising in advertising. With the support of my lecturers, I used LinkedIn to connect with companies as at that time I was interested in organisational psychology in a business environment. The professional training year developed my confidence to have a presence in the professional world and taught me how to achieve work/life balance. Ultimately, it made me re-evaluate my future and directed me towards a career (teaching) that I didn’t know I wanted!
I came back more mature and ready to handle the final year.
What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
I love it when my students have that light bulb moment when get finally get something. It makes the lessons more fun and engaging. That brings out my passion – I am teaching future doctors, solicitors, other professionals, mums, dads – I am a significant part of their journey and I hope they will remember me as they progress.
What are the challenges?
Everyone underestimates the workload so you have to ensure you have the right work/life balance. There is also never enough time with the students – I want them to really enjoy the subject but we have to prepare them for exams.
What are your aspirations for the future?
I would love to work for Ofsted and see how they operate. Lots of teachers panic when they hear Ofsted is coming in but I love having my lessons observed!
I would also like to work in the education sector at government level with the influence to shape policies and direction. I am passionate about curriculum design – one that focuses on the student’s journey, not just their academic ability. We should be developing well-rounded young people.
What is your strongest memory of your time at Surrey?
I was really proud to receive Surrey’s Internationalisation Award for the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences at my graduation for my international work. During my time at Surrey, I wrote an academic paper on mental illness following volunteer work at a mental institution in Beijing and traveled to Ghana to teach and support young people, particularly women.
I also really enjoyed being part of the University’s Chosen Christian Fellowship and I still go back to campus to visit the group.
What advice would you give to students hoping to work in your field?
Set goals and reach them, but be flexible and ready to change them if necessary. Also, remember that the journey is just as important as the destination and don’t be afraid to ask people for advice.