Hello everyone!! I know I have been AWOL for a very long time and I apologize for this. So to break the silence, I will be doing a series on everyday teachers doing great things in the classroom and beyond. I am kicking off this series with an interview with Swanta Blessing Bonta also known as Teacher Swanta.
TEYL: Tell us about yourself
SBB: I am Swanta Blessing Bonat, a certified teacher with the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, school administrator, teacher trainer, education consultant, rural education activist and humanitarian. Lately, I find myself wearing many hats as the need arises (laughs).
TEYL: Wow, indeed you are wearing many hats!! So tell us, why did you choose education?
SBB: Well, I’d rather say that education chose me. I think about it sometimes and get amused.
My initial career choice was journalism. As a young girl growing up in my rural hometown with my widowed mum, I always looked forward to the news hour at 10pm and dreamt of becoming the best investigative journalist ever. However, fast forward to 2006, I could not gain admission twice into one of the prestigious universities in the country to study my dream course Mass Communication. I then applied to a private tertiary institution and my journey to becoming a teacher started before I realized it.
My desire was to be the voice to the voiceless
My desire was to be the voice to the voiceless and be that journalist that always went behind the scenes to touch lives and share in other people’s stories. I saw myself on CNN being the voice from Africa (winks) to the point that even after I gained admission to the Private institution to study education instead of the English Language I applied for, I fought it and left school after just a semester.
But you know when God and the universe conspire to ensure that you do a certain thing, there is no running away. So, after a year, I went back to that same school because I became aware of the opportunity that studying education would give me.
This platform was going to allow me touch lives and also allow me be active in the development of individuals I could not even begin to imagine.
I went back with a defined purpose to study and become an educator per excellence and till today, it is one of the best decisions I have made in my life and I keep counting my blessings with each passing day.
TEYL: This is remarkable! Why did you choose this path i.e. rural education?
SBB: I believe that the call to “teacherhood” came to me with a burden. When I realized that I was meant to be a teacher, I started connecting the dots and became conscious of the issue that plagued me while I was growing up in my rural hometown. You see, my parents knew the importance of a good education and I think that having all girls made their resolve even stronger to ensure that we went to great schools. My dad passed and left the scene quite early but my mum toiled and made sure that we went to the best private schools (the public school system was and is still very terrible) she could afford. Not many children in my community had the chance that my sisters and I had and because I was a sensitive and observant person right from childhood,
I noticed the differences and the imbalance between us and the other kids whenever we came home for holidays and had to interact with them.
I dreaded coming home because there were always stories of girls my age and even younger getting pregnant and mostly shipped to the boy’s family for “marriage” and young boys becoming addicted to substances and turned beggars, thieves or thugs.
Education was not really the priority for many and it bothered me that young women especially, did not seem to have any other options than early marriages that turned them into baby making machines (farmers’ wives/petty traders for those that are lucky) till they died. It was unsettling to say the least but I saw the power of education because I was experiencing it first hand and saw how it was making me different from the others.
I got the conviction that I was going to turn out differently no matter what and then ensure that I do something about the problem later on.
I connected all these problems to the lack of a good education quite early in life and vowed to get many more from rural communities educated, empowered and liberated just like I was opportune to enjoy. This conviction influenced all my decisions from then on and has brought me thus far. I am sure you are aware of the huge gap between learners in rural communities and urban communities. Nothing seems to happen in rural and disadvantaged communities especially education.
I saw the power of education because I was experiencing it first hand and saw how it was making me different from the others.
TEYL: It is interesting how our experiences, convictions and likes/dislikes point us to our purpose. Tell us about COEC
SBB: This baby started like a dream. I had taken up a Hostel Administrator’s role in one of the prestigious international schools in Abuja. While planning for the graduation of my girls in the SS3, I realized that most of them already had admissions waiting for them in universities within and outside Nigeria. I mean, they hadn’t even graduated but things were playing out well for them because they are mostly privileged children and have enjoyed great education most of their lives. My heart was troubled and I could not ignore the fact that children from low income homes had it differently and had to struggle harder to get a fair chance at progressing in education and life. That was it oh! I decided that instead of only focusing on doing something through the “big dream” that was still very far from my grasp, I could start with the little that was already in my hands.
I put in my resignation immediately, went for a workshop on literacy, bought a literacy curriculum package and moved back to my rural hometown to see how much I could help rural children have access to basic literacy skills that will make learning easier and bridge the gap between them and their counterparts in the city. Before I knew it, things became bigger than I thought and today, that dream is registered as
My heart was troubled and I could not ignore the fact that children from low income homes had it differently and had to struggle harder to get a fair chance at progressing in education and life.
I decided that instead of only focusing on doing something through the “big dream” that was still very far from my grasp, I could start with the little that was already in my hands.
Before I knew it, things became bigger than I thought and today, that dream is registered as Community Outreach for Educational Change- COEC and has gone beyond giving basic English Language literacy skills to school children.
It now exists to influence the total school experience for children in rural and disadvantaged communities. It is my tool to create a platform for quality classroom experiences, intentional role modeling, influencing and changing narratives and ultimately championing educational best practices as a response to the 4th SDG. Hence, I simply desire to fix today’s student experience.
We do this through various projects such as the School Scholarship Hub, Teacher Volunteer Network (TVN), Teacher Development Forum (TDF), Rural English Literacy (REL) Program, REL Book Club, Extreme Makeover- School Edition and many more. We do not only crowdfund the renovation and redesign of classrooms for early years learning, but also set up school management systems and ensure that such community schools are fully stocked with relevant learning resources, providing the stimuli for kids to look forward to attending school. So far, we have been in rural communities of Kaduna and Kebbi States.
TEYL: Wow this is huge and well done!!
TEYL: Can you share with us what you do to keep yourself at a sharp?
SBB: If you are a crazy dreamer, you will understand the importance of self-motivation. That plays out a lot for me because there are times that people do not understand what drives me.
- I constantly remind myself about the why. Why did I become a teacher, what do I want to accomplish with it and what results am I currently seeing? These (especially the results) keep me motivated more than anything else.
- Remembering the faces of all the school children I have encountered and how I watched the excitement on their innocent faces each time they accomplished a learning goal gives me a joy beyond definition.
The satisfaction I get for being that teacher that makes a difference in the lives of generations and getting to be part of the process of the development of other people other than myself even for a profession that is not well regarded is always a great dose of motivation. I live for this thing!
- Continuous Professional Development is very important and has significantly played a role in building my career.Tell me about a training, workshop, research or anything regarding teaching and education that will help me and I am paying to attend. Two of such training gave me jobs that I did not even apply for. Lately, most of my learning is online since I am far from the city. I am currently doing two courses in early childhood education and school administration on Alison.com and I look forward to my last lap of schooling – doing a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction.
TEYL: Thank you very much for sharing these. So, what is your “go to” for a quick knowledge top-up?
- TED talks,
- MindShift (a blog),
- Some of the books that help me are Created to Learn and Called to Teach both by William R. Yount
- Facebook pages on education/teachers/teaching/school administration (I have lost count of how many I follow and visit interchangeably) e.t.c. are my go to because nobody knows it all and my story/journey is only one narrative so reading from other perspectives and journeys adds to me and equips me to be more efficient on the job.
TEYL: What book has made a huge impact on your career work?
SBB: Two books actually and funny enough, they are not directly related to education as a profession. The Flight Plan by Brian Tracy and An Enemy Called Average by John Mason
TEYL: Fantastic! You have grown through the ranks in your career, what tips/advice can you share about career progression in education?
SBB: You can never go wrong with good planning, focus, determination and being deliberate. What have you planned for your career? Focus on it and be determined to accomplish it then become deliberate in picking your experiences. While at it, remember to equip yourself with the necessary tools for each experience. Because of my plan to use teaching and education in a certain way, I resolved to choose my experiences and only go for the experiences I need(ed). I wanted to experience working at all levels or aspects of education and school systems. So I started as a Class Assistant, then became a Class Teacher, then a House Mistress, then a Hostel Administrator and now a School Administrator.
You can never go wrong with good planning, focus, determination and being deliberate.
Some of these experiences, you have to create/take them yourself because no one will give them to you easily on account of the fixation on years of experience over competence. Although years of experience are good, they do not always automatically translate to competence. So, do not be afraid to challenge yourself and the system by taking the stage sometimes. I have been able to gather these experiences only within 7 years (winks). There are times that the temptation came to deviate because BILLS were calling my name anyhow (laughs) but I had to keep at it and ignore because I had thrown something into the future that is still waiting for pick-up and only certain experiences will get me there.
TEYL: Amazing! What advise will you give to teachers; newbie, passerby and tired?
SBB: To the newbie, welcome on board!
- Ensure that this is really what you want to do because it is the most difficult yet under paid profession in the world and especially Nigeria.
- Be willing to adapt to the situation in your classroom
- Remember that it is ALWAYS about what works in ensuring that no child is left behind in most if not all aspects of development and nurture.
- Be teachable and humble but know your onions and your rights and
- Do not let anyone take you for granted.
To the passerby, I know that many things happen sometimes and we find ourselves stuck in situations we didn’t plan for. But you know what they say, no knowledge/experience is waste. You have found yourself in the classroom either as a trial job or something to keep you before the job of your dream comes.
- Teaching isn’t a “managing” career because many futures depend on each minute you spend in the classroom. So, see this as your gap year (s) and an opportunity to explore.
- Make the most of this time and give it your all. Who knows, you may just fall in love with it and decide not to “pass by”
- Remember, that what you do with as many as one child will affect that child till eternity.
Teaching isn’t a “managing” career because many futures depend on each minute you spend in the classroom.
To the tired teacher, I FEEL YOU! You came in feeling all excited, zealous and enthusiastic about teaching then over time, you realized that it isn’t as you thought it will be. Trust me, I know that there are many things in the system working against us. I know employers, parents, policy makers and the society seem to focus on the things that don’t necessarily matter and you have gotten so used to teaching the same subjects over the years that it has become boring and monotonous and now, your learners have become more difficult and don’t seem to be learning.
- See, I don’t know how you got here and why you chose teaching but you are already in it and you’ve got two options: leave if you are too tired and feel this isn’t for you any more or stay and become more conscious in being the solution to the problems facing you. It is a hard life.
- Ask yourself why you are tired. Is the tiredness self- induced or external? What are the causes? What can you do to correct it? The futures of your learners do not know nor care that you are tired. You chose to shape them and you said you could do the job and every day you become inefficient, something gives. Please do not be too tired to find yourself again.
- Literally count your blessings if you must. Fall in love with your job, your subject area, your learners and your school community every day.
- See each day as an opportunity to be happy and better then do not let anything or anyone get in the way of that.
- Take refresher courses and plan for each lesson as if it is the first time you are teaching it.
- Draw strength from other teachers and initiate or participate in collaborations. Remember that teachers are survivors and you are one every damn day.
- Oh, and don’t forget to deliberately have a social life outside work. Find other ways, places and passion (s) to let off steam.
To the newbie, passerby and tired teacher,
Change does not happen by chance. Find a burden for your teaching and be sure of the problem that you want your teaching to solve. It doesn’t matter how you got here. It’s time to be deliberate about the journey and work on making it a lifestyle. Teach with a purpose because many futures are depending on you to be shaped.
TEYL: Wow, this has been a loaded interview and there is so much to learn and unpack from it! But before you go, can you tell us where you see COEC in the next 5 years?
SBB: Ah, I see it expanding its reach to more rural communities in the other 34 states of the country and even other African countries. There is enormous work to be done and we have not even scratched the surface yet.
TEYL: Such a huge and very possible dream! And I totally agree with you on the fact that there is enormous work to be done. So, what are the next steps for you?
SBB: The next experience on my bucket list is becoming a School Owner so watch out for me (winks).
TEYL: Amazing!! And we are indeed watching out for you!!!
Closing words from Teacher Swanta:
- As W.B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” what fire are you igniting in the lives of the learners in your care? Are you adequately preparing them for life or just for jobs?
- Work on being the change you want to see no matter who you are and what you do. Why only complain when you can also do something about it? The time to act is ALWAYS now. Make a difference!
This has been such an explosive interview and I do hope you have picked up a lesson or two; and are inspired to make a difference. Kindly let me know what stood out for you in this interview in the comment section.
Also, you can follow Community Outreach for Educational Change on Twitter: @coec_ng; on Facebook: Community Outreach for Educational Change; and on Instagram: @coec_ng
Remember to comment, share and keep the conversation on education going!