Never judge a book by its cover because a first impression can be very misleading. Once upon a time, I discovered that in all spheres of life, feelings of superiority or inferiority, patronising attitudes and colour-coded thinking must be erased from our minds simply because we think less and judge people we have never had the privilege to meet or know better. This can be indescribably uncertain of one’s impression. Someone’s figure tells one thing, but someone’s character is made up of plenty of different dimensions.

In reminiscence of my days in Grade 10, I once attacked my teacher’s character. I misjudged her. I never thought that one day she would be my inspiration, a mentor and change me for the better. I took my Maths teacher as someone who was heartless; it was as if she didn’t care or have kids. She would whip us so hard for not writing our homework. At times, she would whip us for failing her Maths tests. I grew this mammoth animosity towards her. I despised her and I disrespected her and went on to disrespect almost all the teachers.

I was a troublesome learner, believe you me! I was a pain in my Maths teacher’s ASS! Despite being dubbed as ‘Mr Cool’ in the school because of my behaviour, I always managed to narrowly escape failure while most of my cool friends were failing. I believe that’s when most of my teachers noticed that I had potential.

One day, my Maths teacher called me to her office and gave me some food for thought: “Tshediso, my boy, you remind of some lad who was just like you, disrespecting teachers and so forth. As a mother, I started to intervene and nagged him to make education his number one priority and I used to punish him the way I punish you. I would call his parents once a week, reminding them to check on his progress. Luckily, he eventually took his work seriously and passed his matric well and to put the icing on the cake, he’s now a software engineer. So, you too have that potential; you just need to unleash it. I’m willing to help you on every step of the ladder.” Those were some of Mrs Nteleko’s words.

How dare she? Thrusting into my business like an eager, wet dog’s nose plonking itself in an unwelcome lap I thought as I was heading home. So, this software engineer guy must be the dude who all the teachers are always making an example of. Hmm! I guess he must’ve done wonders and Mrs Nteleko believes I can be the next him, so why not give it a try? It wouldn’t hurt, would it?

I went to her after three days: “Mevrou, I’d firstly like to apologise for my…” but she didn’t wait for me finish.

“Tshediso look, there’s no necessity for apologies between me and you. I understand your frustrations as a learner, but what would hurt me more is watching you digging a hole for yourself. I’d really not forgive myself for not mentoring you.”

I couldn’t believe it! What a generous woman! “I wanted to tell you that I’d like you to mentor me even though I don’t understand why you would waste your precious time on an average learner like me.”

Mrs Nteleko calmly took my hands and said: “You are a brilliant learner! You just need to believe in yourself and unleash your full potential and you can be a top achiever. You need not live as a hooligan for the rest of your life!”

Those words touched me deeply because my parents never said anything about my school work and nor did they encourage me. For a moment, I felt a bit of change in me. I came out of Mrs Nteleko’s office with my heart as light as an angel’s kiss on the cheek of a saintly soul.

To cut things short, at the end of Grade 10, my marks improved significantly. The following year I joined a ProMaths project and I turned over a new leaf. My friends couldn’t believe it, they thought I would soon be back to my old habits. My rehabilitation process was not an easy ride, and at times, procrastination would knock on my door. At first, it was difficult to adapt to the ProMaths project, but in the second term I came out guns blazing. Thus, I told Mrs Nteleko that I would like to share my knowledge of Maths and Science with other learners at our school and from that moment, every learner in my school looked up to me. I was now an inspiration to them.

In Matric, everyone expected me to get seven distinctions. There were too many expectations and the pressure was too high. The heat of the moment became volcanic and I ultimately succumbed to the pressure. The highly anticipated Matric results came out and guess what? I scooped six distinctions! From that moment, I understood the meaning of the phrase: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. I misjudged Mrs Nteleko and I was misjudged by my peers, due to my bad behaviour.