Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Ogechi Irondi is a beautiful person. There’s not much more that needs to be said after that. I envy any kid that gets to be in her classroom, and wish her all the best as she heads to grad school in the coming year.
Where are you from? Where’d you grow up?
I’m from Maryland, but my parents are from Nigeria. My mom moved to England for boarding school and came here for college, and my dad came here when he was about twelve. My mom’s siblings all live in England, and she’s very English. I drink as much tea as I drink because of my mother. My dad’s family’s pretty Nigerian, but they’ve been here for a while. I still claim Nigerian all the way, though.
Why is that?
I don’t know, I just have so much pride! Green-white-green all day, every day! I love Nigeria, and I love my culture, and I love Nigerians, and it’s also something that makes me different. When I was younger, I struggled with accepting that, and with being okay with being Nigerian — not just black. Now, I take pride in it. It’s still rough because I don’t speak the language, and some people are quick to say, “You’re not really Nigerian.” But what does that mean, anyway?
So you came to Swat from Maryland. How’d that happen? Where are you coming from?
My mom does a lot of work with kids, and so when I was younger, I fell in love with kids. I knew that whatever I did, it had to be centered around kids — that otherwise, I wouldn’t be passionate about it. You’re never going to be good at what you do unless you’re passionate about it. In high school, I originally wanted to be a child psychologist, but realized that that’s really heavy emotionally, and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. Then I wanted to be a lawyer, and work on rights for kids…
But that’s not “working with kids.”
Yeah. So I got here, and I was still thinking about law until I took a first-year seminar with Diane Anderson (what what! I love her) on education, and it made me really love the education system, and want to reform it. I’ve been with education ever since then.
What makes you see that this is really your passion?
I guess because I often get angry when talking about education, which means it matters to me. Not only do I get angry, but I get angry enough to actually do something. That first-year seminar had a field placement, at this school in Chester. The teacher I was placed with was absolutely amazing, but she wasn’t given the resources to do anything. She was dedicated, and she gave a lot of her own money to buy stuff for the kids. A couple of kids came in without jackets, in the dead of winter, and she bought them coats. She cared a lot, but she didn’t have the resources to do anything. It made me so mad. It was unfair. I feel like a lot of people complain about the fact that we don’t have enough good teachers — but there you go, they had a really great teacher, and people weren’t doing anything for her. Do you think she’s going to stick around for long if she can’t pay her bills or do anything substantial for the kids? That experience happened so early in my academic career, and that really changed the game for me. I was still unclear as to what I wanted to do in education, but I knew that I couldn’t sit by and watch it stay the way it was and not do anything.
So do you have any grand dreams and visions of where all this is going? Let’s say for the school systems. What conclusions have you come to?
I think I’ve gotten to a point where I see that I’m not going to make as big of a difference as I would hope to in the long run, but I know it’s a lot of people making little differences that will end up shifting the game. My personal goal is to change individual people’s lives, not necessarily the system as a whole. Possibly changing those few individuals will amount to changing the system, but I can’t do policy. At the end of the day, policy is really important for making huge, monumental changes for these students, but I just can’t do it. I need to be talking to people, I need to be interacting with the people that I’m influencing. I need to be on the ground level.
Do you have any of your own ideas about policy? For instance, Chester-Upland. It’s the big riddle. You’ve been in Dare 2 Soar, you’ve been in classrooms there. So what can you say?
One of the biggest issues with Chester is that a lot of people making decisions are not the people in the classrooms with the kids. They’re not the people in the schools, they’re not the people dealing with the day-to-day. They’re people who are on the outside, making these huge, life-altering decisions, thinking they’re doing it for the best, but not really seeing the ramifications of those decisions, or what other options there are. On one hand, it’s really unfortunate, and it angers me, but on the other, I don’t know what to do about it, other than to educate the administrators that are making those changes. It’s frustrating. You have principles who are also acting as the nurse, because the nurse got fired due to budget cuts, and how is the principle supposed to do anything for the school if she’s also acting as a nurse? It’s ridiculous. I’m actually working on a project for my sociology of education class, where we are working on formulating a plan of action. We’re looking at which school systems are succeeding, and which schools have really high achievement rates, and we’re trying to figure out what schools in Chester can do to try and turn things around. We’re in the research process, so hopefully we’ll find good information and be able to pass that along.
You talk about decisions that are being made by people who aren’t in the classroom. Does this mean that you should be going into policy?
No. [laughs] No. I think I care enough to make a change, and I’m smart enough to be able to make a change, but I don’t think I’d be happy there. At the end of the day, I need to also do something that makes me happy. Yeah, I couldn’t do policy. But this is why I’m teaching. My parents, they’re Nigerian, so they were like, “Lawyer? Great! That’s a great path! Wait, what do you mean you don’t want to be a lawyer? You want to TEACH?” It was not okay. My parents were not happy. They had everyone in the family give me lectures about how teachers never make any money, and how law is a really solid job, but I made it very clear to them that whether or not I taught for the rest of my life, I would need to be in the classroom for a period of time. Because I’m dedicated to reforming education. Now I’m at a point where I’m pretty sure that I’m going to get my master’s and then teach, and then hopefully work in a non-profit organization that works on education reform, but not necessarily on the policy level — more like on the school-to-school level, or classroom-to-classroom level. That’s my plan of action: to go where I can get passionate about what I’m doing, but also make a change.
So what are you doing next year, specifically?
Graduate school! I am going to get my master’s. I’m starting in June or July. Isn’t that crazy?
Yeah! Where are you going?
I don’t know. I’ve heard back from a school, I’m still waiting on others, so I don’t know officially where yet, but I’m definitely going to grad school.
Wow. That is soon.
Yeah. We graduate May 27th, and one of my programs starts the second week of June. Isn’t that crazy? On the plus side, I’ll be done with my Master’s in May 2013, and then I’ll be teaching for at least 3 years.
So you’re a senior, looking back at Swat. What do you think?
I’m at a place where I’m just excited to move on. If you had talked to me during my sophomore slump, I would have said, “I hate this place! Get me away!” But now, it’s not getting away, it’s going towards something else. I’m excited to leave, because I’m excited for what’s next, and Swat’s helped me a lot to get there. A lot of seniors are scared and nervous, but I’m just ready. Ready for the next chapter.