A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
Today’s “A Week in the Life’s” subject is Rejoice Olori, a child educator. Her life fell out of place because she hugged a male friend in university; then she found out she has a gift with kids. But after eight years of migraines, she’s now focused on money instead of passion.
I’m trying to organise my life, so I started a routine this year : I wake up by 5:30 a.m. but it takes 30 minutes for my brain to boot, so I actually wake up at 6 a.m. Then I get out of bed and spend the next hour exercising at home. I haven’t seen any results from the workouts, but exercising makes me feel good, that’s why I keep doing it. By 8 a.m, I’m ready for an oatmeal breakfast, then I get to work.
I run a child tutoring firm, which means from Mondays to Fridays each week, I oversee the education of kids aged 5-12 in their homes. It also means I’m a social media manager and content creator who posts carousels on Instagram about kids learning, to convince parents I know what I’m doing.
When a parent reaches out to me for assistance, I book a meeting for us to discuss their child’s needs, challenges, goals and what the parents require of me. It’s important to get this information because some people just want a place to dump their children while they go around their business. They try to lie, but I’ve been in this business for eight years.
Some parents are honest about just wanting to keep their children busy while they work, while others genuinely need help with their children’s development. After I work out the details with a prospective client and they’re satisfied, I assign the task to my administrative supervisor.
My firm offers both remote tutoring and home tutoring for children who need extra help outside school, but home tutoring is available for only clients in Abuja and Lagos. When a client needs a home tutor, my administrative supervisor delegates one to the client’s residence. Otherwise, we have online classes with the client’s children through online video conferencing and e-Learning tools made for children.
I used to handle clients as a freelancer for seven years, but I stopped because of migraines. I love small children, and because I’m a hyperactive person, I can match their energy. They see me and just want to hang out. But I’m now an elderly person, please. Children are crackheads, and they can cause serious headaches.
For years, I was handling several children of different temperaments and couldn’t sustain it alone anymore. I decided I needed to start delegating jobs, that’s why I started this firm.
Handling parents and their kids closes at 7 p.m., after which I get ready for my 7 p.m walk to clear my head and enjoy fresh air. I do circles around the neighbourhood for an hour, then I have an evening bath, journal, do a one-person karaoke in my room and press phone till I sleep.
I didn’t have much to do today because I delegated tasks to other team members, so I have enough time to think about my life.
I became a child tutor by accident. A decade ago, something happened that changed the course of my life: I publicly hugged a male friend in university, forgetting that Redeemer’s University was strict about inter-gender relationships.
The hostel mistress saw it and reported me to my parents who promptly withdrew me from the school and whisked me back home to Lagos where they could monitor me. They also hid me indoors so people wouldn’t know their child wasn’t in school. I was miserable because I’d had a rocky childhood living with them, and now I was stuck with them instead of finding myself in uni.
I stayed indoors for two years before my parents relocated to Abuja, taking me with them. I convinced my father that since nobody knew me in Abuja, I no longer needed to be hidden indoors, so I asked him to let me work.
In 2013, I casually applied for a teaching job. I didn’t expect to hear back from the school, but the proprietor called and scheduled an interview. He offered me a job at the primary school even though I’d applied for a nursery teacher position. He would pay only ₦11k — which I thought was small — but the job would get me out of the house, so I was grateful. At that point, I probably would have taken anything.
I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve become independent; I’ve taught children of notable personalities in Nigeria and abroad — remotely. I’ve travelled, and I’ve founded my company.
It always amazes me how easily parents give up on their children. I find that most times, children get closer to me than their parents because I actually listen to them. Children seek validation, but too many parents aren’t patient enough to even find out what makes their children tick. It becomes my job to do their work.
Today, I have to deal with a parent and their difficult child. I spend the afternoon helping this parent get through to their child. I tell them to listen and make the kid feel heard. Childhood is not easy, and even though life is hard for us adults, children aren’t fully developed yet to figure life out themselves. A big part of my work is helping parents understand this.
This reminds me of my first challenge in my first job.
In my first term in the classroom, I was concerned about children who were not learning. I had children in the class who were rude even though they weren’t performing well in school, but there was one girl whose stubbornness really stood out. She refused to participate at all in class.
Maybe because my own childhood was shit, I wondered if maybe this child needed getting through to. I decided to be patient with her. One day, I asked her a question while teaching, she ignored me. I noticed every child staring at me and knew I couldn’t mess up. If I didn’t handle the situation, I’d lose the pupils’ faith.
In a split second, I weighed my options and encouraged her to stand up and answer. She reluctantly got up, said, “I don’t know,” and sat back down. She was so timid even though she was trying hard to put up a mean countenance.
I went and discussed the child’s situation with the proprietor. To my shock, he said, “Are you all right? Use cane and flog this child!“ I refused, so he went to the class and flogged the girl. Then he punished her by forcing her to kneel down and lift a heavy stone over her head.
After that incident, the girl started to avoid me. A few days later, I told her we needed to talk. During break period, I called her to me and softly tried to initiate a conversation. At first, she was not responsive, but she later dragged a stool to my table and sat down. When I asked her why she was avoiding everyone, she blurted out, “Because nobody cares!”
I was taken aback. Why would a seven-year-old child say such a thing?
I later learned that she was a middle child who was ignored. While the firstborn and the last child got all the attention, rewards, gifts and new things, she didn’t feel appreciated no matter what she did.
I convinced the proprietor that flogging wasn’t working, and we should try something different. So we arranged a meeting with the parents.
During the meeting, we found out that the girl’s mother was superstitious. This was a doctorate degree holder breaking down in tears and admitting that she believed that her child was a source of spiritual battles. After all, at the time of the girl’s birth, her husband lost his job and they’d become broke. So, she knew her child was a child of destruction, that’s why she neglected her.
I and the proprietor had to get over our shock and advise the parents to do better.
In the coming months, we saw improvements. She became one of the top five pupils in class.
After that episode, the proprietor decided to study how I approached children, and eventually relaxed his instincts to flog children once they misbehaved. He later promoted me to be the “School Behaviourist”.
My work has never been about only teaching. Children will always learn how to read and write anyway — they can learn it at any age. But emotional development and communication skills need to be developed in children from an early age.
When I wake up today, I don’t feel good. I can’t place the feeling, but when I open my laptop to work, it hits me that I’ve been tutoring for eight years and it doesn’t feel like I’ve achieved much in life.
I quit working for people six months ago and decided to focus on skilling up in tech while I run my tutoring business. I didn’t know for sure what I’d do next.
In late 2014, after almost two academic sessions at my first job, I got admitted to Uniabuja to study political science and had to leave the primary school. In my final year of university, I could no longer bear to live with my parents, so I moved out of their house. I rented a self-con in Gwagwalada, took up freelancing in child tutoring and instantly increased my income to ₦60k.
One of the teachers in my former place of work recommended me to her friend who owned a tutoring agency. I was hired, assigned to two clients and paid ₦30k per child per month.
After Youth Service, I had more time, and so I took on more children. Every child I worked with loved me, and so I got more and more recommendations and my income rose. I was hitting ₦250k a month at some point. I think I did okay. There’s this family whose child gave a speech on her birthday and named me as her best friend. They now live in the UK but still send me birthday gifts till today.
In 2020, I got a contract to tutor a state governor’s children in eastern Nigeria. They would provide me accommodation and feeding while my monthly pay was ₦200k. The perks weren’t so great, but I needed the change of scenery. Plus, I would no longer worry about paying rent and buying food.
It turned out to be the most boring part of my life. I didn’t like the system, and I felt so out of place around those politicians. And since I rarely left the governor’s house, there wasn’t much else to do. After a year, I decided I wanted more out of life.
Leaving wasn’t difficult. Around the same time I was bored, the IPOB situation took hold in the east, forcing my employers to discharge me. I moved back to Abuja in June 2021 and decided to stop teaching actively.
I shake myself out of my thoughts and focus on attending to parents’ messages about their children for the rest of the day.
I have to change my life.
I love being a child educator, but I’m at the point where I need to start enjoying. Teaching kids alone will not get me there, not with the way Nigeria is currently set up.
I’ve been fortunate to make a living from bonding with children. I’ve even gotten some recognition from it — a few award nominations here and mentions in major publications there. But none of these has brought in much in the way of financial stability or fulfillment. I’m always going to love teaching kids anyway, but I’ve been doing the same thing all my life, and now I need a new challenge.
That’s why I recently turned my sights to tech. I’m learning data science but that thing is hard. Learning in adulthood is hell. My plan was to learn Python, SQL and R in six months, but after two months, I’ve started thinking that maybe it’s product management for me o, considering I have transferable skills from managing the most difficult set of people in the world — children.
I’ve pursued passion all my life and it hasn’t gotten me where I want to be financially. If I got into tech eight years ago, I’m sure I would’ve been eating good by now. And who says I can’t use tech skills to improve my child tutoring brand?
Anyway, I look forward to a future where I live a soft life, travel when I want and drink lots of red wine. And I think tech will get me there. That’s why I’m not giving up yet, so today, I open my laptop, log in to Udacity and give it another shot.