My academic background began in the sciences. I completed my bachelor’s in Human Biology at the University of Toronto and began my career in the pharmaceutical industry. Although my career was promising, it was largely unfulfilling. When my first child was born, I decided to take a break in order to re-calibrate. Becoming a mother forced me to take a break from the every-day grind of corporate life and focus on the health and well-being of my children. As my oldest son became ready to enter pre-school, I reflected on the challenges that he would face as a Pakistani kid, being visibly different from his peers, and making his place in the world. I wanted to raise my kids to be proud Canadians and yet celebrate their ethnicity and religious heritage. Over time, my interest in nurturing this balance developed into a larger passion around education, the education system, and children’s development. Could I, in any capacity, bridge the ever-present gaps in our schooling systems that can leave children feeling isolated or misunderstood? It was then that I began my foray into education, getting my certification in teaching English as a Second Language. Shortly thereafter, I began teaching ESL.
Giving back to my community in this way and teaching the next generation of Canadians – so many of whom face the same struggles I did when I was younger – was a serendipitous experience. I found a sense of purpose which was not present in my previous career. Despite the arduous process of engaging in a career shift and the tireless hours of marking, it was worth it.
I was soon recruited into management at another school. I grew into the position of vice-principal and subsequently became the principal. As a principal, the opportunities to offer improved education and innovation were widespread. I wanted to ensure that these students were getting the best possible and most well-rounded experience; that they would feel comfortable not only in the classroom, but as multi-faceted human beings with their own values, who are comfortable balancing all aspects of their identities.
I decided to go back to school to get my Masters in Education, with a focus on Leadership and Administration. I later went on to pursue my Principal Qualifications. These certifications made me better-equipped to engage with my students and community.
As a principal, I focused on:
- maximizing the available resources and facilities of the school,
- improving the school’s facilities and access to resources, and
- engendering a culture of respect, confidence and pride within and among the faculty and the students. As the school improved, enrollment increased dramatically and I became a reference point for conversations around the educational system, particularly within the Muslim community. I took this responsibility seriously – I knew that members of my community were looking to me on how to navigate both the public and private schooling systems. It is a responsibility I still take earnestly.
I have had the privilege of having a seat at the table – of being able to bring forth the issues that Muslim youth are facing and addressing them through policy recommendations and changes. Since 2017, I have worked as a Policy and Program Specialist for the largest Muslim organization in Canada. In this capacity, I develop and implement policies with relevant stakeholders, conduct research, produce reports, and administer education policies and programs. I am also responsible for evaluating current curriculums and providing recommendations for them. This requires that I stay closely attuned not only to the policies I am working on, but to the students they serve. Throughout my career in education, my focus has remained unchanging: to better the lives of the stakeholders I am responsible for.