I looked at the audience and froze. My throat closed up and suddenly I felt like I had forgotten how to breathe. My cold and clammy palms shook from fright and I gripped the edge of my school uniform to stop my hands from shaking. A sea of faces looked at me in anticipation and the judges nodded encouragingly but nothing came to my mind. I willed myself to remember the arduously practiced poem but the words just wouldn’t come! I was suddenly and violently overcome with the need to flee from the hall. I did not wish to prolong this agony even a second longer but just then I noticed a movement to my right. It was Miss Yasmin, my class teacher. I looked at her all too familiar smiling face that radiated with faith in my abilities. She mouthed to me the words that had become my mantra- ‘I will and I can’. These five words were my ammunition, my strength and my power to overcome every adversity.
I looked back at the audience with renewed determination and slowly the haze of panic dissipated. My breathing that had become ragged became calmer. The words of the poem sprang to the fore of my mind and I began reciting the poem. As I continued to recite the poem, the audience and the judges listened with rapt attention. They laughed at the funny parts and smiled and applauded when I concluded the recitation. I looked at Miss Yasmin with triumph gleaming in my eyes and though I didn’t win the competition, I was elated to receive a pat of approval from her and see the glint of pride in my class teacher’s eyes. For the nine year old me, this was a huge feat and an accomplishment in itself because this was the very first time that I participated in a poem recitation competition.
This was my introduction to the world of elocution competitions, debates, dramatics and speech making. I was a shy and introvert kid but I credit my oratory skills and confidence to my third and fourth grade class teacher, Miss Yasmin Morbiwala. I went on to win accolades and awards for several debate and speech recitation competitions and even won the best speaker award several times during the tenure of my school years and none of this would have been possible without my mentor, Miss Yasmin. If it wasn’t for her encouragement and constant motivation, I would not become the vice head-girl or the confident debater that all my juniors know me to be.
Needless to say, my mentor gave me the golden mantra that made me resilient in the face of every challenge. “I will and I can” was a life motto that serves me well even today after all these years. I still vividly remember my first day in third grade when we were introduced to our new class teacher. She put up these golden words on the bulletin board to inspire every child and that day onwards I would look at those words everyday not realising how they became a part of my fabric, my life perspective and my North Star.
The confident and calm aura that Miss Yasmin radiated was unparalleled and was hard to forget. She touched the life of every student and cared for everyone like a mother cares for her child. I cannot remember a single instance when she raised her voice or punished a student. Her relentless patience is something that I still aspire to have. She would painstakingly explain concepts multiple times if a student didn’t understand it and within a few days she knew every student by name.
It was her inventive way of teaching every subject which increased my interest in academics and helped me to score the highest marks in every paper. I still remember how she had drawn a cup in my paper and written ‘bravo’ across it when I scored full marks in my Maths paper! Every day with Miss Yasmin was a delight and fortunately she was my class teacher in the fourth grade too. These two years are my fondest memory from school and in the span of these two years, I bloomed like a flower that was lovingly watered and well- tended.
When I reflect on what a great mentor she was, I feel blessed to have met her. There is so much to learn from her, to be humble, confident, patient, encouraging, motivated, knowledgeable, hardworking, kind and supportive. She was like a lighthouse standing strong in the turbulent seas, guiding every tiny little boat with her bright beacon and helping them to safely reach the port. I only have to emulate her to be an ideal mentor and now when life has come full circle and I joined LT Nursing College at SNDT Women’s University as a lecturer, I realised what a responsibility it is to guide young minds and inspire them to put their best foot forward. On the first day of my class, I told my students about my mentor and my mantra. It’s become a ritual now, at the end of every class, I along with my students recite together with a clear voice and with determination shining in our eyes- “I will and I can!”
Even though I have lost touch with Miss Yasmin, I will forever remember how she helped me to be the best version of myself. Like my mentor, I want to inspire my students and if I ever meet my mentor again, I want to thank her because she believed in me when I didn’t have an iota of belief in my abilities. I am forever grateful to her because when I was more than willing to give up, she didn’t give up on me. The poem recitation could have scarred the frightened and under-confident nine year old me, and I could have developed stage fright, but her warm and encouraging smile and her faith in my abilities will forever be etched in my mind. Her words changed the story of my life.
Paulo Coelho was absolutely right when he said, “What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.