This article is part of an editorial series on Inspiring Women in Education
This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the career of Sheeba Jojo, Vice Principal at GEMS Our Own English High School. Mrs Jojo is not your average Vice Principal; While many school leaders claim to understand their school’s students, Ms Jojo has truly been one of them. Her time at the school started not as a member of the faculty, but as a student, later returning as a teacher, and now in a key leadership role. An inspiring woman in every way, read on to find out what drives and inspires the Vice Principal of one of Dubai’s largest schools.
Mrs Jojo, who or what inspired you to become a teacher?
Right from early on, I was a brilliant student in school. I always enjoyed learning and I was always curious. I loved to take things apart and try to put them back together. I even remember an incident with a rather special watch of my mother’s… I wanted to see the workings and I thought to smash it open! That day my mother was not happy at all! Having said that, I was lucky that as an only child my parents spent a lot of time nurturing my spirit of learning, innovation and creativity.
Growing up, I would always want to share new learning with my friends. I found such excitement in that! I never kept anything to myself. By God’s grace, my own school life meant I got plenty of opportunities where I could lead other students. That helped the teacher in me to grow, and by the time I graduated, I knew teaching was the only career for me.
Can you tell us more about your career?
As soon as I finished my Masters, I went to work in a school in my hometown. It was a very dynamic school, with a lot happening and it proved a great springboard for my career.
After getting married, we moved to Dubai. My first job was in a GEMS school, although back then it was known as Varkey International School [now Our Own Indian School].
I think I am one of the luckiest people ever, to go back to work in my old school. Really, it’s been the most interesting thing that has happened to me in my life. This school has an incredibly strong community and has given me a rooted sense of belonging that I am so thankful for.
What was it like to be a student at Our Own English School?
I have been fortunate enough to be in the school at the time when Madam Varkey herself used to have her office there. When I think of that now, I get goosebumps and when she passed away recently, it was a very emotional moment. It took me down memory lane, what a wonderful woman, what a wonderful story that is now this huge educational phenomenon. This school was Madam Varkey’s baby, she really gave it her everything. At the time I think we had around 3000 students, and now we have grown almost four-fold! The campus has moved to a different facility, but all the feeling and spirit of the old days remains.
Of course, school in those days was very different, but the memories that I have are very warm and very happy.
How did it feel to return to your school as a teacher?
The chance for an interview had just come out of the blue. I wasn’t looking to make a change in my career, but because it was this particular school, I had to say yes! If I am honest, I took the process a little lightly, because by then I was so used to working in international schools and I wasn’t sure if I could make the switch to the Indian Curriculum. I’m now in my third academic year here and I am so glad I made the move!
My first day back at my childhood school was absolutely an emotional day. Since then, it has been a great learning journey and I have received just incredible support from all of my colleagues.
Do women have any specific challenges working in education?
I have always thought and believed that what matters is how good you are at what you do. That is what I hope gets you noticed first. I don’t think I have ever been denied an opportunity because I am a woman. At GEMS, the hiring process is all about seeking out excellence and you will see we have many women in senior leadership roles throughout the group.
Did you enter teaching with the goal of being in leadership?
The driving thought for me has always been that I must do anything that comes my way to the best of my abilities. Whether it is cooking or making a speech…I go all out! Every day, I try to bring my best and bring out the best in every other person around me, I am very conscious about that. That is what has driven my career.
Do you have any advice for the younger generation of educators?
I think the current times are challenging and the times ahead are going to be even more of a challenge! What educators really need to deliver on now is molding young people to be as human as they possibly can. There is all this advancement in technology and an explosion in media and technology. There is no dearth for access to knowledge these days, so our greatest challenge is to keep students engaged in the right way.
Who supports you, and how?
My life centers around relationships. I feel that everybody I meet, they contribute and become part of my support system. It might just be a smile or a word, but it all matters!
My parents were my original support system and now my husband and daughter are my best friends and greatest critics! I am so thankful for my family and friends.
On International Women’s Daywhat message would you like to give to the young women and girls in your school, and around the world?
Irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman, your merit is what matters. Everybody must have a sense of purpose in life. We must always remember that happiness and meaning in life come from within ourselves. Nothing is impossible as long as we have the will to succeed and the discipline to work towards it.