‘With her help, I re­alised what I could ACHIEVE’

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Real Life -

As a teenager, Toyin Aye­dun-alase was of­ten ex­cluded from lessons. The sup­port of Cyn­thia John helped put her on the right track, and now Toyin is help­ing other young women to find their way

TOYIN, 29, SAYS: ‘I’ve al­ways loved study­ing, but I had a dif­fi­cult time at school because I strug­gled to man­age my emo­tions. At the end of my first year at Car­di­nal Pole Catholic School in east Lon­don, I was moved down from the top set to a class of mixed abil­ity because of my be­hav­iour.

Not only did that mean my ed­u­ca­tion suf­fered, but my con­fi­dence took a knock, mak­ing me more de­fen­sive than ever. I found it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to man­age my be­hav­iour and faced mul­ti­ple ex­clu­sions. My poor school re­ports also didn’t help the al­ready dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship I had with my mum. Look­ing back, I’m so glad that I started hav­ing ses­sions with Ms John, the school’s pas­toral care men­tor, because that’s when things fi­nally started to change.

If you had to go and see Ms John, it meant you were a trou­ble­maker, so I went into her ses­sions with my guard up. But the first thing Ms John said to me was: “I can sit here and tell you what ev­ery­one’s say­ing about you, or you can tell me about your­self. Ei­ther way, I’ll come to a con­clu­sion, but I’d rather it be from you.”

She would never stig­ma­tise me just because a teacher had said some­thing neg­a­tive about me. That way she in­stantly cre­ated a safe space. Be­fore Ms John, I didn’t re­alise how much I was hold­ing in – I started ar­tic­u­lat­ing feel­ings I didn’t even know I had, on is­sues I wasn’t aware were both­er­ing me, like not hav­ing my dad in my life.

Ms John never made me be­lieve ev­ery­thing was easy, and she’d tell me if I was in the wrong. But she helped me re­alise what I could achieve. I’d al­ways en­joyed drama, so she worked with my drama teacher to find theatre com­pa­nies that I could get in­volved in. The deal was if I stayed out of trou­ble, I could take part in work­shops. It gave me some­thing to fight for. I dis­cov­ered, with her en­cour­age­ment, what I was pas­sion­ate about and started to see what I could do when I wasn’t so an­gry all the time.

Ms John went above and be­yond to sup­port me. She’d go out of her way to up­date Mum on the pos­i­tive progress I was mak­ing, so that she wasn’t in­un­dated with neg­a­tive pro­files of me. It was re­ally good to have that per­son in my cor­ner. Ms John was also in­volved in nom­i­nat­ing me for an award for young peo­ple in Hack­ney who’d ex­celled.

I val­ued the time Ms John in­vested in me and I worked harder than ever because I didn’t want to dis­ap­point her. When I got my GCSE re­sults, she was with me, cel­e­brat­ing be­fore I’d even opened the en­ve­lope.

Af­ter school and univer­sity, I ded­i­cated my­self to act­ing and theatre and de­cided to set up Women Af­ter Great­ness, a so­cial en­ter­prise that men­tors young girls. Ms John nur­tured all the right skills in me, and now I try to do the same for oth­ers.’ CYN­THIA, 49, SAYS: ‘When you work with young peo­ple, they al­most become yours. All you want for them is the ab­so­lute best, and that’s what I felt for Toyin. She’s a very pas­sion­ate per­son, but when she was young, this pas­sion tended to be com­mu­ni­cated by anger and frus­tra­tion. But she was also very de­ter­mined to achieve. It was just about un­lock­ing that po­ten­tial.

It’s been an hon­our to see her grow up into an amaz­ing young woman. I am so very proud that she’s taken the tools we ex­plored dur­ing our ses­sions and ran with them.’

I started ar­tic­u­lat­ing feel­ings I didn’t know I had – TOYIN

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