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A Journey from the Oil Fields to the Classroom

July 2, 2019
In San Antonio, middle school teacher Michael Osikoya finds purpose in a new career

Michael Osikoya says he became a teacher because, “I wanted to make a difference and operate with purpose.”

That “eureka moment” a couple of years ago prompted Michael to leave a successful career as a quality control inspector in the Texas oil fields and complete his Bachelor’s degree in education.

In 2018, Michael joined the staff at Compass Rose Academy, a public charter school in San Antonio, where he teaches sixth grade social studies and a college pathways course for sixth and seventh graders.

Michael’s first-year experience in the classroom – which included a field trip with students to Washington, D.C. – affirmed his decision to change careers.

We talked to Michael about his school, his students and what he loves about being an educator.

Michael Osikoya believes "every child has a desire to win" and it's up to teachers to tap into their potential.

What are the qualities that make a good teacher?

Every student has a story. To be an effective teacher, you need to connect with their story, whatever that looks like. You have some students whose parents can afford tutors. You have some students who typically doze off in class, because their parents work two jobs and they have to take care of their brothers and sisters. You have students who come to school with a Starbucks drink and an egg croissant, and other students who rely on the (free or reduced-cost) meal at breakfast to get them through the day. As a teacher, you can’t do any surface work. You need to dig deep, get to know their stories and take time to know the gaps that need to be filled to get them through this world successfully.

What is the most important thing teachers need to know about their students?

Every child has a desire to win. It’s up to the teachers to bring that desire out, and leverage that desire, so the child is successful. What makes a phenomenal teacher is someone who thinks like a student but acts like an adult.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in the classroom?

A lot of students come to us lacking confidence, because of past negative school experiences. It saddens my heart to hear some students say, ‘My former teacher said I’ll never be this, or I’ll never be that.’ I want to give my students a whole different outlook and let them know they can succeed. Our vision here is to give every child an opportunity to get into college and through college.

How do you manage your students’ educational needs and also deal with the social-emotional challenges they face?

I have had students come and say to me, ‘My parents are about to get a divorce.’ Or, ‘My grandma is very sick.’ They are going through a lot. You need to show that you really care about all of their issues and still maintain your peace of mind. A lot of times, teachers get caught up in the wave of everything that students go through. But we still have to perform. We still have to teach. What has helped me connect with my students is explaining how education can help whatever life brings to them.

The best thing about being a teacher, says Michael Osikoya, is "being able to change lives."

Beyond the classrooms, what is one thing teachers can do to help students succeed?

Teachers need to know the parents. If teachers and parents get on the same page about the child’s education, it can change everything. It’s up to teachers to show the parents how much we love their children and how much we desire for them to succeed. When the parents and teachers are in sync, the accountability and success rate for the child increases. Reminds me of that old saying, with a twist: "It takes the community to develop a scholar."

How would you like to grow as a teacher? What skills are you interested in developing?

Next year, I am going to work as a culture manager, handling student behavior. This is a restorative justice school. We pride ourselves in taking students who have struggled at other schools. Maybe they were suspended or kicked out. We want to make them the best students and scholars they are capable of being. Compass Rose emphasizes building the values of respect, ingenuity, grit, honesty and teamwork in our students. We want to create an environment where we make kids better students and better people. To be an effective teacher your class needs a phenomenal culture. To have a great culture, you need a class with well-behaved students. To have well-behaved students, you have to know them beyond the classroom walls.

What is the toughest part of being a teacher?

The most difficult thing about the job – especially if you love what you do – is knowing that it doesn’t stop. I’ll drive a student home from school, or pick them up to get them to school well beyond my shift’s hours, because I believe in the vision. We don’t want there to be an excuse for students to fail. The toughest part of the job is knowing that you're always on the clock.

What’s the best thing about being a teacher?

The best thing about being a teacher is being able to change lives. To this day, I can still remember things my elementary and middle school teachers told me. To know my students will never forget me because of the principles I instilled in them – it makes me so glad I am able to do this.

Teachers Inspire is a series of stories that highlights the talented professionals who are inspiring students across the U.S.
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