Ufot Inyang is the assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for Dougherty County School System.
As long as Ufot Inyang can remember, he’s had a passion for learning — a desire that has spread into a love for teaching.
Since coming to Albany, Inyang has worked his way up the ladder, climbing to heights that the Nigerian-born executive sometimes thought were unreachable.
And while his job as the Dougherty County School System’s assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction has largely forced him to trade his classroom for a boardroom, Inyang still manages to creep back into the places where his career started — the classrooms of Dougherty County schools.
A product of public boarding schools in Nigeria, Inyang recently sat down with reporter J.D. Sumner to talk about his career and to offer glimpses into life outside of his job.
Q: What was your first job?
A. My first job, it was in Nigeria. It was also in education as a teacher preparing other teachers in the public schools in Nigeria. So I’ve been in education all of my life. I left Nigeria, I believe in 1987, and arrived in Albany in 1988 and started working almost right away with the school system as a substitute teacher and then eventually a full-time teacher at Radium Middle School. I remember my first position there as a science teacher in 1993 and I’ve been in the system since then.
NAME: Dr. Ufot Inyang
POSITION: Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for the Dougherty County School System.
FAMILY LIFE: Inyang is married with three children, all of whom are or will be products of the Dougherty County School System.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you got your first paycheck?
A. I think I took my family out for dinner somewhere, I can’t really recall. But it was to celebrate, you know? The appointment was something we were joyful about and thankful about so I took my family out to dinner. I’m not quite sure where it was, I think it was Western Sizzlin then.
Q. What is the most effective technique you’ve used to motivate teachers and students?
A. Again, recognizing what is working; recognizing the people who are doing a terrific job and raising the moral of the people. I believe in collaboration and shared leadership and once you empower people to do work, you’d be surprised at how much they can do for you. My philosophy has always been to collaborate extensively and to believe in people to provide them with the skills and resources that they need to be able to do a good job. For my students the same philosophy applies. I truly love what I do. I love my students. I believe in them. And I also believe that we need to provide them with the right kind of motivation and a diverse education.
Q. What made you want to be a teacher?
A. It’s always been a passion of mine to make a difference in people’s lives and education lends to that point. I thought I had a knack for it and clearly that was evident in the classroom. I believe if you speak with those who worked with me way back at Radium, where I started at Radium Middle, they will attest to the fact that yes, I was effective, and I’m not saying that be impressed with myself. Clearly I was effective and I made a difference. And some of those students I had way back at Radium Middle still come back to me and express gratitude and share highlights of their lives with me as their teacher. I’ve been lucky to have leaders who have pushed me in the right direction. They saw something in me about leadership and directed my steps towards leadership and the rest is history.
Q. Did you have a role model or inspiring figure growing up?
A. Clearly my parents. My parents have been the greatest influence in my life. I look up to them. My dad was a strict disciplinarian. He had the highest of expectations for all of us. We are seven all together in our family ... seven siblings, and all of us college graduates. It was just a given in our house, in our household, that you were going to college. That was just the standard. I had role models within my family.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge facing education today?
A. It boils down to student achievement, making sure that we’re closing the gaps of learning between different sub groups. I want to make sure we are delivering first-class instruction to our students. That we are providing high-level learning so that they can be successful. As we look at the data in student achievement, we’ve noticed big gaps; students going through the ranks without being able to read properly, students who are unprepared — we want to fix that. We want to make sure that we are doing the right kind of work. That when we, for example, move a child forward, that we know that they have actually acquired the skills and knowledge to be successful at the next level. So it’s been clearly communicated to us that student achievement is the biggest challenge. And we can talk about how we go about fixing that, but, at the heart of it, is how we go about preparing teachers in the classroom. If we have the right kind of people in the classroom then you’ll see a relationship as far as student achievement goes.
Q. What’s your favorite work-related gadget?
A. My iPad works very well. It goes with me wherever I go. Taking notes, communicating, you name it. It’s mobile so it allows me to do what I need to do even when I’m away from the office.
Q. What’s the last book you read?
A. Actually most of my books are educational related. Currently I am reading Richard Dufoe’s “Raising the Bar: Closing the Achievement Gap.” I’m trying to make sure that I’m very well aware of what it takes to do the job that I’ve been entrusted to do. So I keep myself immersed in terms of reading.
Q. If you could go back in time and tell yourself or tell your students today something that would help them succeed, what would it be?
A. I wish I could go back to my school days and change some of the things that I did growing up. I’m happy and grateful that I went to a school system that emphasized discipline and structure. I went to a boarding school, which is mostly what we have in Nigeria, and that basic schedule was from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed.When I talk to students today, who I love dearly, I tell them that the size of the world is changing, the type of the world is changing, that the skills that they need to be successful have changed dramatically, and that unless they dedicate themselves, in terms of learning order, in terms of discipline, in terms of applying themselves, in terms of having goals for themselves, they won’t be successful.