If it wasn't for the incredible teachers around me, I would've fallen through the cracks early on. Starting at the age of 4, I was bullied, called names, and humiliated by my peers for the colour of my skin, my mother tongue, my ethnic background... Basically, things that I had no control over. I can still recall the day I was called "Black" by fellow 5-year olds. I watched them revel over my misery. I had learned to hate myself. At age 5. And things could've gone worse from there, if not for the presence of some wonderful teachers. Teachers who built up my confidence and self-worth, one kind word at a time. Teachers who taught me how to choose kindness over cruelty.
And I chose to remember the time my second grade teacher said I have beautiful features... To this day, I have no idea what that means. But I kept her voice in my head. For the next 15 years, when I was ridiculed for looking unconventional, I repeated her words in my head. She helped me face the world with my head held high. My teachers believed that I could be more than a face, that I had something of value to give to the world, that nurture and appreciation could work wonders.
Years later, I began my professional career at a place headed by a hypocrite who lavished praises on his own teachers but looked at people taking up this profession with contempt. His justification was a common cliche "Those who cannot do, teach". I was enraged at the phrase, at how callously it treated the most noble of professions. In that moment, I knew what I wanted to do in my life... Teach.
Since then, I have met even more incredible individuals who helped mould my understanding of education and the role a teacher can play in students' lives. I saw them working tirelessly to help a generation succeed, model inclusive practices in the classroom and putting their students' well-being before anything else.
Through all the self-doubt, confusion and cynicism, I had another hand holding me up, guiding me through it all. My Mum, who believed in the transforming power of education, who cultivated enriching relationships around her thus teaching us the importance of friends and family, who made sure that we had access to the best resources that enabled us to be the individuals we are today. Her arms are my safe space, her words my encouragement, and her courage my life goal. The older I get, the more I appreciate everything that she accomplished and helped us achieve as well. My greatest pleasure is being told that I look/sound like her.
As I work with kids and teenagers now, I try to be their safety net. Because people may forget what you said to them, but they never forget how you made them feel. I hope these kids feel safe and included because they crossed my path. And would go on to spread that kindness with people who cross their paths.
This is my tribute to the amazing women and men that I've had the privilege to learn so much from... And a salute to a mother with boundless courage, love, and confidence.