After 10 outstanding years of service in the New York City Department of Education as both teacher and vice principal, Ms. Ogunsuyi is now head of Stevenson’s lower division (PK-4) on our Carmel Campus. She graciously offered her time last month for a quick sitdown with us.
[Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
How’s California life treating you?
I like the Monterey Peninsula a lot. I love all the colors. I love being able to walk to the beach. The weather is beautiful, and the view from my office is stunning. There is space on campus to be able to have an outdoor classroom for every single class, and the space for really good instruction to happen in a relaxed way and structured play. It’s all very exciting for me.
Who sparked the fire for learning in you?
I credit my parents for a really good, enriching childhood. They instilled a love of learning and curiosity and fostered that for us.
My father is kind of a geek. He is a lawyer, and I thought he was the smartest person on Earth when I was little because he had an answer for everything, and his answers always made sense. I was a curious child, so I was always fascinated: how does this man know so much?
My mother is a retired New York City public school teacher and also spent many years as a special educator. My first look at what a teacher’s job is came from spending time in her classroom after school, helping stuff folders, stapling materials together in preparation for lessons, or creating charts. I was surprised that a teacher’s job was a lot more than classroom teaching: when the kids left, there was always a lot of work still left to do. Watching her spend a long time at work, then come home, be a great mom, and then do it all again the next day. I had this impression that this is a superpower that she’s able to do all of this!
It sounds like seeing your mom as an educator had a deep influence on you.
Oh yes. For a long time, of course, I did not want to give her that credit, because when I went to college, I decided I wanted to be a psychologist or anything but a teacher! Eventually, I came around and realized that it was a desire I had, too.
My mom is also really into public service. She is retired now and dedicates a lot of her time to an NGO she started that supports public schools in Nigeria in the town where she grew up. She offers training to teachers, and she brings in resources to support them. She wants to make sure that students there are receiving a quality education that’s up to par. That aspect of service in her life has always been present for me. So when I came to terms with being a teacher, I decided that I wanted to spend my life doing something that was helping others, and I just honestly have a love for children.
What does learning mean to you?
Learning for me is simply gaining more knowledge about the world, whether it’s through experience, academia, texts, or instruction, building and expanding our knowledge base in every subject, which also includes ourselves.
Do you think teaching the whole student is something schools do more now?
When I was in school, there were expectations: you need to be successful, get good grades, be the best student in all subjects, and have good scores on the SAT. It was focused on academics and numbers.
Now, there’s more attention paid to the social and emotional component, giving students the language to process how they’re feeling, helping them think about what they’re thinking about, which is metacognition [an awareness or analysis of one’s own learning or thinking processes]. I have to say that learning has changed because it’s that intention about understanding what the “why” of learning is now, so that we come to the most appropriate way forward, which looks very different from student to student.
Why did you choose Stevenson?
When I was being interviewed, I was also interviewing to see if this was a good fit for me because I was very happy at my previous school. One of the things that drew me here was being able to go to the classroom and meet these kids. They were the highlight. Just talking to them and seeing how they were bright, affectionate, really loving children. You could tell there was real attention paid to helping them understand how to have organic conversations and be respectful.
It was also beautiful to see an inquiry-based approach to learning in action, something that I value tremendously, seeing students in small groups together, and with teachers around campus. There was a lot of freedom, but it was also very organized. The kids knew exactly what to do, even at such a young age. And I thought, if you set up students and give them the right tools, they can accomplish these things that we want them to do, like being more independent and making good choices.
Just seeing education here at Stevenson being done properly at the highest level, with resources allocated and utilized in the best way, educating the whole child: the School pays attention not only to academic success, but also to social and emotional success. That was a big one for me. It’s beautiful to see.
Learn more about the Lower and Middle Divisions at Stevenson School