You never really forget your favourite teacher.
While it may not seem like it at the time, their kindness and encouragement has a ripple effect on not only your future career and life, but the people you cross paths with along the way.
For former refugee and 2013 Young Australian of the Year, Akram Azimi, that person was Mr. Bell, a teacher who came into his teenage world, and continues indirectly, to guide him in his own teaching and mentoring of young Indigenous people today.
After leaving Afghanistan to seek asylum in Australia, Azimi found himself to be the only brown kid at an all-white school.
"There was quite a lot of racism of inferiority but what made it worse was that I did not really speak the language," Azimi told The Huffington Post Australia.
Unable to speak English, Azimi failed test after test.
"I was bullied for being stupid and I accepted that as part of my identity -- that I was stupid," Azimi said.
And then, September 11 happened.
"I was in Year Nine -- still pretty much the only brown kid who also happened to be from Afghanistan -- who also looked like the people who had done this horrific deed."
"Suddenly I went from just being inferior to being dangerous where my very identity, and my looks were morally polluting," Azimi said.
It was this final act that left Azimi completely numb.
I built these walls around my heart and the wall was built out of fear and pain -- the bricks were fear and the mortar was pain -- and Mr. Bell gently chipped away at that with kindness.
"Folks take on your exclusion as a moral duty whereby excluding is no longer discrimination but something we ought to do," Azimi said.
The exception was Mr. Bell.
"He would just come and say hello to me -- every day -- he would give me a little bit of respect and a little bit of dignity," Azimi said.
"I built these walls around my heart and the wall was built out of fear and pain -- the bricks were fear and the mortar was pain -- and Mr. Bell gently chipped away at that wall with kindness."
After many months he eventually broke through and invited Azimi to the library.
"Somehow he knew that I had an affinity for storytelling. And what I've learnt since then is that experienced teachers are able to see in their students what their students can't see at that particular moment in time," Azimi said.
Mr. Bell shared stories from history with Azimi and in the process taught him English, critical thinking and how to tell his own story.
"Looking back now, he was giving me the means to humanise myself to my fellow class mates. If I could tell me story to them, I could become human to them," Azimi said.
On another level, Azimi said he infected him with a love of learning.
"He made me realise the more knowledge I had in my brain, the deeper I could see into other people and into this world," Azimi said.
Most of all, he taught Azimi that his notion of self-worth doesn't come from things we've been given but rather what we give others and inspired him to become a teacher himself.
Azimi's story is one of many and this month, Commonwealth Bank are looking to find and reward other teachers, like Akram and Mr Bell with their annual Teaching Awards.
"The Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards recognise that high-quality teaching is the greatest in-school influence on student engagement and outcomes," Kylie Macfarlane, General Manager Corporate Responsibility, Commonwealth Bank told HuffPost Australia.
Twelve teachers will be awarded $45,000 in prize money to implement a new program at their school helping students like Akram rise to success.
The applications are closing next week on the 30th of November and we want to encourage amazing teachers like Mr Bell to apply.
For more information on the Teaching Awards or to nominate for an Award visit teachingawards.com.au.
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