A great teacher can play a pivotal role in a student’s life.  But what qualities lift a good teacher and turn her into an extraordinary one? Someone who impacts an entire life? For this article, TRC staff spoke to individuals from different walks of life about the teachers who made a difference in their lives.

Many people have a story about someone who made a difference in their lives. Often that person is a teacher, who is ideally placed to make a difference. From nourishing a student’s gifts and talents, to making them think and from offering support to sparking enthusiasm and interest for a subject, teachers can have a lifelong influence on their students. Sometimes they can change the course of their students’ lives. 
We asked people from different walks of life about the teachers who have had an impact on their lives, and who continue to inspire them, many years later.

Sheeza ZuberiEducator: I think my class teacher; Ms. Parveen was a real influence in my life. I had just moved to Pakistan from India and was completely lost in the classroom. The other kids in class were condescending as I didn’t speak Urdu the way it should have been spoken. This teacher helped me settle down in the new environment. 
She was gentle and encouraging. Ms. Parveen would encourage me to write poems and essays about my feelings and then post them on class bulletin boards. It gave me a lot of self confidence.
She helped turn me from an average student to a high achiever. I am grateful to her and now as an educator myself, I strive to have a similar impact on my students. 

Adnan KhalidEngineering Manager: Mrs. Iqbal was my 8th grade teacher and taught us History and English. She had a real motherly quality about her, where she could be kind or critical, based on our actions. She cared about her students almost as if they were her own kids. She had a great sense of right and wrong and her criticism was always constructive. She kept a fine balance in the student-teacher relationship that she shared with us and at the same time made an effort not to intimidate her students. Now that I am a parent I often think of her when parenting my own children and feel that a good balance is key when bringing up young minds to help them navigate the world.

Summaiya ZaidiLawyer: The crucial nature of the role played by teachers, and especially good teachers in the life of a young adult cannot be stressed enough. They must drive you and teach you to work harder and consistently to achieve the best that you can. Ms. Fauzia Fikree was that teacher for me. She taught me from the age of 11 to 16 years, which are some of the most formative years of one’s life. World history was a course which came alive as she encouraged us to do some other reading or watch films about the subject. Her hard work and dedication to her subject spilled over onto me as well. Over the years we have kept in touch and now I know (or I hope at least!) I can call her a friend.

Naveed AlamMarketing Executive:  I wasn’t a very good student and no one seemed to care about the friends I was making in school. The kids I hung out with weren’t the best influence on me. I was very distracted when it came to academics. No one seemed to notice or care what I was doing in school, except for Mrs. Huma, my Math teacher. 
She was very strict and one time she caught me passing notes in class. She called me after class to have a chat with me. Then she called my mother. She kept repeating the same thing over and over to both me and my mom, that I was capable of doing much better than what I was doing.  That it was just a matter of getting focused on my work and that she knew I could do it. At first, I was upset that my mother had been called to school, but soon I realised that Mrs. Huma really cared about me and was concerned that I wasn’t giving my best in school. She believed I could do much better and by being concerned she made me try much harder to excel. Finally someone was paying attention to me! After that incident not only did my grades improve, but I also started believing that I could do anything, because Mrs. Huma told me I could.

Sana CashmiriStudent: When I was younger, my principal, Alan Thomas, had a great impact on me when I had just moved to Vietnam and a new school. He was always kind, gentle and very soft-spoken. Mr. Alan was very involved in his students’ activities and he knew each and every individual as well as their abilities and treated them equally regardless of there being over 300 students in the school. He inspired students to aim higher and not limit themselves in what they aimed to achieve along with always having a positive attitude. He was a role model not only for me, but for every child in that school and possibly every other school he had taught in or managed. He always told his students to do the right thing and to “shoot for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground” and to this day I cherish his brilliant words which is why he has had a great influence on me and my character.

Sameer ShahIT Programme Manager: The teacher who influenced me greatly was  someone who taught me in university. He was my professor for Information Systems while I was working towards my Master’s degree. He got me really interested in the practical side of the course. His course was about how everything we have learnt applies in the real world and his teaching method was unique. His classes were more about students sharing their experiences. So it was a transfer of knowledge from 50 individuals to each other, rather than from one teacher to student. The experience changed my perspective about learning.

Semee RizviDoctor: If I were to name one particular teacher who has had a life changing impact on me it would definitely be my biology teacher in school, Mrs. Lily. She was known in the school as a strict disciplinarian and was even stricter with her marking. However this very quality of hers encouraged me and I became determined to excel in the subject she taught. It was through her that I developed a love for human biology which eventually led me to a career in medicine.

Rameen SaadStudent: When I walking into my Sociology class on the first day, I didn’t have high expectations. But throughout the school year my Sociology teacher taught me many things, and not just about the subject, but also about myself. She helped me realise I had actual potential and the ability to change the world. I’ll always be thankful for the impact she had on my life.

On a bad day –when students aren’t ‘getting’ a new concept, when a student is disrupting class or when no one is paying attention to a lesson you worked hard to prepare –it is easy to fall into a rut and feel that you are just going through the motions and not having an impact. Yet stories such as those narrated by these individuals serve to remind you of the higher purpose behind your decision to become a teacher.

Whether those interviewed for this article, remembered their teacher as being maternal or as hard taskmasters, the common thread in all their responses was that their favourite teacher was the one who treated them as individuals, not as human resources.  These teachers changed lives because they became mentors helping each of these individuals identify their strengths and building on them.

And they inspired their students in different ways. Some took a personal interest in their students and showed that they cared for them. Others made their subject come alive or let their passion for teaching show, leading their students to take up careers related to the subject their favourite teacher taught. It even led to the ultimate homage, when the inspired student became a teacher herself.

Beyond the ‘technicalities’ of the education system such as getting your students to ace a standardised test or getting the class to behave, teaching is about providing support and believing in the students who don’t believe in themselves. It is about imbuing your subject with so much enthusiasm that it ‘infects’ your student enough to go beyond cramming for a test and developing a real love for learning. Indeed, teachers who make a real difference in their students’ lives are the ones who rise beyond the day-to-day rigours of their job and connect with and support their students both inside and outside the classroom.

July 2015