What inspired you to go into education?
I’m one of those ones who always wanted to be a teacher. I felt like it was a calling for me. I’ve always wanted to teach and I really feel like being a teacher is a true gift, it’s an art and a science. I think individuals are born to be teachers, but they’re also made.
How did your career start?
Started working with Edmonton Public, my first job was a temp contract with the school I’d done my practicum. I was very fortunate as there weren’t many jobs for teachers then. My year as a teacher was teaching a grade 4 class in the core of Millwoods, with a diverse ethnic population. It was a huge school, a class of 30 kids, and at the end of September I found out I was pregnant. By June I was waddling around my classroom but I was so excited to be teaching it didn’t matter. After I had her I stayed at the school doing short contracts here and there, I kept my foot in the door with subbing while my other children were born. I think it’s very important for teachers who are entering—especially females who are starting a family— to stay involved in the field. To really be connected to one or two schools.
One thing that was very interesting was that year I was the only Punjabi teacher on staff at the time. I am a visible minority teacher, but I was born in Calgary Alberta. I had the ethnic heritage and the background which was similar to many kids in the school but I had that Canadian context which wasn’t as common then as it is now. It was so new for kids to see someone of their own ethnicity as a teacher. I always ran a culture club so the students could learn about these cultures.
I was the first Punjabi language teacher in Edmonton Public Schools. It was the first of its kind in a public context. I’ve often felt like I exist in a third space. I’m not quite mainstream Canadian, but I’m not quite fully Punjabi. Being able to teach the language was a really enriching experience because it not only allowed me to connect with my own culture but I was able to bridge those two worlds. Historically the language was only taught during Sunday school Gurudwara (sikh temple) so this program was the first of its kind in Edmonton Public Schools.
Have you experienced any unique struggles being both female and a visible minority in education?
Being born and raised in Alberta I didn’t realize until I was in my thirties that people saw my colour first. It was a huge awakening for me. When I came to understand that, my understanding of myself shifted. Generally speaking I didn’t experience difficulties, but I have learned that coming to understand that I am living in that third spaces has helped me to see myself.
You do hit a glass ceiling and I will say that. I am becoming more cognizant of other’s perceptions of my ethnic heritage and being a female than before. It is fair to say that as I move up the corporate ladder I am more aware that the reality of being a female and a visible minority could impact the decisions I make. As I progress in my journey I have to ask myself every day what is really important to me. I think a lot of women are faced with that, as they move up really do face that dichotomy more so than men do.
What exactly is your job now with Alberta Education?
Assistant Registrar of Practice Review- What that means is I deal with all conduct and competency issues for the province. I operationalize conduct and competency complaints for teacher in private, charter, and band operated school. The ATA does conduct and competency for all public schools, so I review those decisions and action them to the minister. If there is a suspension or cancellation of teaching certificate purposed by the ATA’s hearing committee, it would be my job to review and process those. When it comes to the conduct (anything that deals with unprofessional conduct) Competency (measuring when teaching is professionally competent, ability to teach) 99% of issues are conduct related. If a teacher’s suitability to hold a teaching certificate is brought into question for unprofessional conduct or professional competence, then only the minister of education can suspend or cancel that teaching certificate.
Its serious business but I love my job. It’s been great learning. It’s certainly meaningful work. In circumstances where the well-being and safety of students is at risk I feel gratified that I have the opportunity to prevent individuals from continuing to teach when they are not fit. Although I have to add that the cases in which students are unsafe are only a fraction of what I deal with and taken very seriously. It’s good work, it’s rewarding but it can be disappointing, It focuses a lot on the negative, but in the end it is done to benefit Albertans and keep kids safe. 99% of our teachers in this province are phenomenal. They’re good at what they do and they’re professionals. they do an excellent job at being role models and teaching kids. But in my job I see that other percent, and that’s okay. From the minute they get their certificate, until the day they leave the certification. Teachers are held to a high regard 24/7 on duty and off duty. Same way a police officer is.
What advice to new teachers and students in general?
Build a stellar reputation for yourself. Always remember that you are a teacher on and off duty. You take on that responsibility as soon as you’re issued your certificate. Having that certificate is an honour and a privilege but with it comes a professional responsibility. Lifelong learning is so critically important; I hope that students continue in their journey of learning, whether it’s formal education or informal learning.
Out of all the jobs I have explored in education, this is by far the most intriguing to me. Now if I could find a way to skip the teaching part and just deal with the practice review… Status: considering a career in public relations.