Keiryn Ajayi-Obe knows what a difference a teacher can make in the life of a struggling student because she was once that struggling student – and now she is that teacher.
Ajayi-Obe, 35, who teaches English at Port Huron High School, knew from a young age that she wanted to work with words because she loved reading and writing so much.
“I told my mom when I was in high school that I wish someone would pay me to read and write and so I became a teacher,” she said.
But overall, Ajayi-Obe struggled academically with various subjects in school. She felt discouraged at times and didn’t always feel encouraged by teachers in those subjects in which she struggled.
“But then I had a really phenomenal teacher in high school and she didn’t hold me back,” she said. “It was really important to me at that time to have someone who believed in me. She let me choose what I wanted to write about.
“I had some struggles academically, but she didn’t see me that way. She just saw that I could learn. She totally believed in me. Without her, I would have just accepted what all of my other teachers thought. The issue was, I just didn’t learn the way other kids learned.
“Now, as a teacher, I realize how easy it is to forget what each kid needs.”
Ajayi-Obe also came from a supportive home environment and had parents who believed in her abilities to overcome her obstacles, as well, but now, as a teacher, she sees that is not always the case.
“I had a great childhood and my parents were very involved in my life and they had a lot of rules and a lot of structure,” she said. “Now, the stories I hear from some of my students are heartbreaking and they are hard to hear.”
She noted that when students struggle with their home environment, it can affect their school work, but she works with them, reminding herself of her own academic struggles.
“I find what works best is to just keep at them and tell them they can do it,” she said. “I don’t want to tell them what they can and can’t do, but I won’t sugarcoat it for them. And I won’t tell them they can’t do something I can see they are determined to do.
“I also just really try to support those who don’t have a great home life…it’s important for them to know there’s someone who cares about them. When you are a teacher, you are a parent from 7:30 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon. Even the kids who come from good homes still need a mom in the building from 7:30 to 2:30.”
Actually, Ajayi-Obe is a mom outside of her work hours, as well. She and her husband are the parents to two young children, aged two years and nine months. And while she loves being a mother, Ajayi-Obe doesn’t let that define her entire life outside of work.
“I’m not just a mom,” she said. “There are other parts of my life that are important to me and that’s okay.” In her spare time, she likes to read and travel and can tick off a long list of travel destinations around the world where she has already touched ground.
“Also, I have a close knit group of friends so when I feel like my sense of reality is off, I can call on those friends. It’s nice to have a group of friends who can go through all the life changes with you. And I’m a Christian, so for me, God is first in my life and so even when it gets tough, I know that it will eventually get better.”