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Adele was recently overcome with emotion when she was surprised by her former elementary school teacher at a concert. Watching this beautiful reunion almost moved me to tears as I remembered all the teachers who have come and gone in my life. From those who have taught me what it means to be a leader to those who recognized my covert potential, it’s time I celebrate the wonderful individuals who have left a lasting impression on my life.

My favourite place to visit during breaks or after school was wherever my favourite teachers would be. Going to them became somewhat of a sanctuary for me where I was able to get away from the crowd and simply hang out. Whether it was offering to stay in during recess to set up the classroom or visiting them after school to chat about life, it became a fun part of my routine.

Teachers are undoubtedly the most underappreciated community in society. Despite playing such an influential role in student growth, they face the misfortune of being severely unrecognised and infrequently praised for their tireless efforts. They bear an arduous abundance of responsibilities as they shape distracted youth into the future leaders of the world. From behaving as role models and offering mentorship to constant support and unwavering dedication to their craft, their efforts are boundless. Their impact transcends beyond the classroom walls as they instil those words of knowledge, encouragement and kindness into students that honour them in every chapter of their lives. In addition to providing the necessary education, these extraordinary teachers have imparted perceptual wisdom that extends well beyond a curriculum. 

MADAME Sophia Micelli

French wasn’t always my favourite subject. With the endless amount of conjugations and agreements, it was something I struggled to get the hang of. It was in the seventh grade that I finally learned to love and truly understand the mystery of it all. Although it was difficult for me to grasp in my three years of prior education, it took someone with tremendous passion for both the language and teaching to get through to me. My intermediate French teacher Mme. Micelli is someone who not only encouraged me to grow from my mistakes but also celebrated my success when I was given the French Award at graduation (where the surprise and gratitude moved me to tears). Recognizing my intent on achieving that goal and pushing me towards its manifestation, Mme. Micelli taught me the importance of hard work and dedication. Even though she’s no longer physically by my side to cheer me on, my work ethic is a byproduct of her philosophy and steadfast support. 

MADAME A.

My passion for the language only intensified when I met my Grade 10 French teacher. Mme. A is one of the most engaging and animated people I have ever gotten the pleasure of knowing throughout my educational career. She is so full of life and constantly challenges her students to be the best version of themselves. She knew exactly how to motivate me and taught me the inconsequential lesson to always advocate for myself, whether that be inside the classroom while bargaining for marks or in the real world. Beyond what we learned in the classroom, she was someone I could go to “just because.” From my personal problems to frivolous life updates, she never failed to lend me an attentive ear. She was my teacher once again for Grade 12 French, where I earned the year’s French award and gained even more appreciation for her. She was there whenever I had countless questions or came in for some extra help, enthusiastic to see me succeed. 

Mrs. ameduri

It’s not often you find a teacher who ultimately becomes a friend in your book. Mrs. Ameduri was my Grade 10 World Religions teacher who helped me with a lot in my life. She’s someone I used to spend hours sitting down and chatting with about anything that came to our minds. Aside from teaching me about the different creeds across the globe, she was someone I could trust to advise me with the big decisions of my life — ranging from career goals to personal aspirations. She plays a large part in the pursuit of my dreams and I will always be grateful for her belief in me and the extension of endless support. She taught me to follow my gut feeling and take risks in a world of infinite possibilities where I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

MS. BYGRAVE

It only takes one voice of confidence for you to push through the doubts and get back up. That voice was my Grade 11 Fitness teacher who refused to give up on me when I had already given up on myself. Regularly driving everyone to their limits, Ms. Bygrave was dedicated to ensuring everyone worked to their full potential in each class. It was a place to better yourself and actively make improvements in your life, abandoning the concept of regret at the door. Ms. Bygrave always got along really well with her students and would make an honest effort to form genuine relationships. Upon discussing our regrets in one of our conversations, I mentioned my disappointment of never being able to play on a high school sports team. She assured me that my time would come if I worked hard and stayed positive throughout the process. I took her advice and was accepted onto two teams the following year — specifically one I’d been trying to join for years — and it was all possible due to her words of encouragement. I ended up receiving the Most Improved Player award at the end of the Ultimate Frisbee season that year and she was right there to give me a huge hug as I walked back to my seat in complete awe. Her words of persistence still motivate me to this day as they continue to help me navigate my life all these years later.

MR. MCMANAMAN

While there are some people in life who will try to silence you, others will amplify your voice and ensure you are heard — even if they don’t necessarily agree with you. Mr. Mcmanaman began my high school journey with me as my Grade 9 Religion teacher and watched it come full circle as my Philosophy teacher in Grade 12. He saw me transform from a shy and hesitant girl to a confident woman who wouldn’t think twice before sharing my thoughts in class. Mr. Mcmanaman’s classes were always some of my favourites because of the environment he would foster. Not only did he allow class debates on the daily, but he also wanted you to disagree and prove him wrong. From class discussions about humanity to the true meaning of life, it was a constant back-and-forth in the most respectful manner. Rather than being afraid to speak up like in my freshman year, I was the first one to answer his questions and debate his ideas by senior year. Ultimately, the experience has taught me what it means to be a critical thinker and to speak up for what I believe in.

MADAME SHERRI FIORINO

It speaks volumes if a teacher is able to make an impact on you without actually being your teacher. One aspect I appreciated about high school was the opportunity to meet new people through extracurricular activities. While Mme. Fiorino was someone I didn’t have the privilege to be a student of, we were able to connect through the French Club and the Muslim Student’s Association (MSA). Through these connections, we were able to work alongside one another and get to know each other. She is without a doubt a teacher of compassion, affection and goodness alongside the French language. She encouraged me in every aspect of my life whether that be my work with the MSA or my love for French. She truly was my biggest cheerleader. She constantly pushed me to pursue that love and is a walking reminder to treat people with kindness and respect.

MR. BROWN

School is a place where many of us feel vulnerable. Whether you’re not the most organised student or you’re insecure about a certain subject, it’s a place where you can’t help but compare yourself to others. You’d think it’d come naturally to me as a Pakistani, but math was definitely a huge insecurity of mine growing up. Although I managed in elementary school, it really caught me off guard in high school when I entered the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. I was enrolled in Mr. Brown’s class in the second semester of Grade 10 when I got my worst mark to date and nearly failed the course. My inability to do math paired with my terrible mental health at the time was a recipe for disaster. It was even more humiliating considering Mr. Brown had previously taught my older brother and would always speak so highly of him. Yet there I was, dragging our family name through the mud. I decided to leave the dreaded program and found myself in Mr. Brown’s class once again in my senior year. I was rather embarrassed that he’d judge me and have to see me fail again, but things panned out differently than I pessimistically expected. There was never any judgement in his eyes. No discouragement or belittling. Quite the opposite, actually. He never gave up on me. He never made me feel dumb or less than for not understanding certain concepts. So I worked hard for that class. Day and night, completing each homework question multiple times and reviewing each chapter thoroughly before every test. I managed to get the highest grade I’d received in high school math and one of the highest in the class. I’ll never forget the parallel between the parent-teacher interview in Grade 10 and Grade 12. On one hand, you had a concerned teacher rambling on with platitudes and euphemisms to soften the blow and on the other, it’s endless praise, support and encouragement. I remember tearing up as I sat there and heard him talk about my improvement and the way in which I grew as not just a student, but an individual over the past couple of years. You know, if you’d tell me to picture a genius in my head, Mr. Brown would pop up without hesitation. But he does a heck of a good job of not letting anyone feel any less than him. If there’s anything I know for sure, it's that he was truly meant to be a teacher. 

MS. PAMELA BUNTING

You come across countless teachers throughout your lifetime but it’s the ones from your early childhood that have the greatest impact. Ms. Bunting was my grade five and six teacher who bears a huge responsibility regarding who I have become as a person today. She was an incredible teacher with the innate talent to inspire and instil confidence in every one of her students. Despite being a clueless child, she saw something in me and had exceptional belief in my abilities. She’s the one who gave me my first opportunity to write in a newsletter when she noticed my leadership skills and wanted me to share my words with the entirety of the school. She’s the one who recommended me for Future Possibilities for Kids (FPK) and gave me a shot to take control of my goals. She’s even quite possibly the one responsible for where I am today — studying journalism — when she offered me a pen and encouraged me to share my voice. I haven’t talked to her in many years, but I really hope she knows that she’s the one who inspired me to get into writing. She recommended me for FPK but I really hope she knows that here I am a decade later, on the other side of the table, helping kids like 10-year-old me take control of their goals. It doesn’t come around very often but some people just have the calling of becoming a teacher — and Ms. Bunting is unmistakably one of them. She was an essential part of my development and inspired me in more ways than I can ever explain. I’ve carried her influence and praise with me until this very day and will continue to do so until I am able to eventually pass it on.

Mrs. Rula Ferazzoli

The last teacher on this list is someone who I cherish more than I could possibly explain. When I first moved to my current hometown in the middle of Oct. 2008, I was put into a class where I knew no one. It’s incredibly difficult being the new kid in a completely new city, but Mrs. Ferazzoli helped me fit in and get comfortable with everyone around me. Fast forward all this time later, my elementary school experience was honestly remarkable. I stayed in touch with Mrs. Ferazzoli throughout the years as she also happened to be the librarian who took me under her wing as a library helper. We formed a unique friendship (she would call it a teacher-student relationship but deep down she knows we’re pretty much friends) and she became someone I could come to for a lot of things. Her extensive knowledge of books drew me into the world of reading where I became all-consumed by the idea of escaping into all these different realities. Whether it was walking the hallways of Westmore Middle School or envisioning myself in the trenches of Panem, it opened my eyes to a world of new possibilities. Although it’s been 13 years since she was my teacher and nearly seven years since I’ve graduated, I still visit her as much as I can and try my best to keep in touch. Mrs. Ferazzoli taught me about a whole new world and I’ll never be able to thank her enough.

My educational career has provided me with so many wonderful teachers that I am eternally grateful for. Though some might not have been mentioned in this column today, every single one has touched my life in one way or another. From my elementary school substitute teacher Ms. T who always wore funky earrings and taught me to express my creativity to the after-school program supervisor Ms. A who taught me the value of growth, we always carry a piece of our teachers with us. Every teacher I have ever encountered has completely changed the trajectory of my life and guided me to where I am now. My life is truly a mosaic of all the teachers I have had the fortune of meeting and learning from.  Their influence paved the way for me to succeed, and I hope one day to pay it forward by having the same impact on someone else as they have all had on me.

Aishah Ashraf is a second-year journalism student at Ryerson University whose hopes to pursue a career as a talk-show host are fuelled by her passion to remedy the absence of female Muslim representation in the entertainment industry. When she isn’t writing, you can find her rambling on about pop culture, searching for new adventures to embark on, or binge-watching programs on Netflix like the television fanatic she is. 
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