Building relationships is crucial for middle school teacher Omar Azim.
Azim, who works at Royal Oak Middle School, was awarded the Loran Scholars Foundation Teachers Building Leaders Award this summer. For him, it came “out of the blue” but that’s just a symptom of the impact Azim had on his nominator.
Azim was among 26 teachers recognized this year for providing early inspiration, guidance and growth opportunities for scholars. He was nominated by former student Ford Smith, a 2017 McCall MacBain Loran Scholar. Smith, a Cordova Bay resident, graduated from the University of British Columbia in May with a bachelor of kinesiology degree and a minor in public health.
Even years later, Smith feels Azim embodies the Loran values of character, service and leadership.
“For example, after I returned from a year abroad in Scotland, he quietly and patiently worked with me to overcome my anxieties, helping me to feel confident in returning to the classroom. To this day, I’ve carried the belief he helped instil in me that I’ll always be able to find my feet, no matter how hard the challenge,” he wrote in a letter nominating Azim.
That mindset came into play as Smith held challenging summer internships with Iris Automation in San Francisco, and the Department of National Defence in Ottawa. He now works for BC Emergency Health Services as an emergency medical responder, and starts in the primary care paramedic program this fall.
Academics are critical, Azim said, but there are some things they can’t teach. Educators have to find the right key for the right kid to open the door a crack and let them explore the world and themselves, he added.
Good teachers challenge students, providing opportunities for them to develop and grow. Some kids are ready for that in middle school, Azim said. Smith was an example of such a student. By the time he went on to high school, he was part of all elements at the school, from athletics and academics to student leadership.
“He took every opportunity he could get when he was a student here,” Azim said, seated in front of the Saanich school just ahead of the 2021/22 school year. It’s never down to just one person either, it’s all the adults and students involved in the school community, he explained.
Building those relationships, that community, leads to students who feel comfortable and potentially ready to take the risks required to achieve new skills. If a class is going well, flowing smoothly and the kids feel successful – they learn.
“While he has helped me to become the leader I am today, I’m confident he has also inspired hundreds of other students in a similar manner,” Smith wrote. “My fellow Royal Oak Middle School alumni have incredibly fond memories of Mr. Azim. We still laugh about his practical jokes, his distaste for slugs, and how he made every single student feel welcome and valued. Mr. Azim is a teacher who has built not one leader but many.”