Wonderland.

MEHREEN BAIG

The teacher-turned-broadcasting sensation talks the pandemic and her new book, Hidden Lessons: Growing Up on the Frontline of Teaching.

Mehreen Baig
Mehreen Baig

While the pandemic disrupted every lifestyle imaginable, one profession that was particularly difficult to maintain during the course year was teaching. With students condemned to a year of Zoom lessons and disrupted exam schedules, it is fair to say that the education system was sent into a frenzy of sorts as all of its players attempted to keep its cogs turning smoothly. Now, in a bid to shed a light on this topic, teacher-turned-broadcasting sensation Mehreen Baig has released her debut book, Hidden Lessons: Growing Up on the Frontline of Teaching, which stands as a masterful ode to the unwavering dedication and determination shown by both students and teachers during the unprecedented times we have recently endured.

“During the pandemic, education was suddenly thrust into the headlines. With homeschooling and the results fiasco, everyone was talking about schools and teachers and everyone became an education expert. But I was surprised at how many opinions came from a place of such little understanding. I come from a family of teachers, my brother and sister are both teachers, and I saw first-hand how hard they worked throughout that unprecedented time. They deserved some sort of acknowledgement, some sort of appreciation. I didn’t want to write a book preaching and lecturing people, but I knew one thing I could do was share my authentic experiences surrounding my time in teaching to raise some sort of awareness regarding what the job actually entails,” explains the decorated journalist when speaking on her latest project.

Ahead of the release of her book, the multi-facet sat down with Wonderland to discuss what inspired her to pen her latest project and what she hopes to achieve next. Head below to read our interview with Mehreen Baig…

Mehreen Baig - Hidden Lessons
Mehreen Baig - Hidden Lessons

Hey Mehreen, how are you? How has this past year been for you?
Hi! Gosh, how do you sum up the past year? For me, it has been a real mixture of extreme highs and lows. I worked on some of my dream projects, but my father also fell critically ill with Covid. It has been quite mad, to be honest – a real rollercoaster – but overall, I do think I’ve learnt a lot about myself because of all those experiences.

With everything that happened last year, a lot of people picked up some new skills! Did you try out anything new?
I learnt how to cook! Before the pandemic, I could barely boil an egg. But during lockdown, cooking became my mum and I’s bonding time. Every day, she taught me how to cook a new Pakistani dish and I wrote all her recipes into my own little lockdown recipe book. I must say, I am now a biryani expert!

You recently released your first book, Hidden Lessons: Growing Up on the Frontline of Teaching, which is about the frontline of teaching! What inspired you to write about this?
During the pandemic, education was suddenly thrust into the headlines. With homeschooling and the results fiasco, everyone was talking about schools and teachers and everyone became an education expert. But I was surprised at how many opinions came from places of such little understanding. I come from a family of teachers, my brother and sister are both teachers, and I saw first-hand how hard they worked throughout that unprecedented time. They deserved some sort of acknowledgement, some sort of appreciation. I didn’t want to write a book preaching and lecturing people, but I knew one thing I could do was share my authentic experiences surrounding my time in teaching to raise some sort of awareness regarding what the job actually entails. Equally, I had so many students get in touch with me who were really struggling during lockdown due to a variety of reasons – whether that was an inability to access their lessons or being stuck in dangerous situations at home – and I wanted to bring their stories to the forefront as well. It’s about time we celebrated both teachers and young people for their resilience and indomitable spirit. It is more important now than ever.

Was this created during lockdown? If so, did you face any challenges while writing?
I wrote the book in about 12 weeks during the lockdown period. The benefit of this was the fact that I had nothing else to do – I was locked indoors anyway, so I could devote my time to my writing. However, I do live with my family, so finding a quiet space was a challenge!

It’s all about the adversities faced by both students and teaches across the country, how important is it for people to highlight these issues?
It is hugely important that the challenges facing students and teachers are highlighted because most people who don’t work in schools will not be aware of these issues. There is a real lack of awareness of how difficult it actually is for so many people in Britain today – you can have two families living 5 minutes away from each other in completely different circumstances. There is a huge issue with teacher retention, underfunding, lack of resources, poverty and deprivation, lack of facilities for young people and the curriculum and assessment, and none of this can change unless people are made aware that there is a problem in the first place. If we don’t bring awareness, how can we begin to empathise and make a change?

What do you want people to take away from this book?
I don’t want my book to just focus on the negatives, but I also want it to be a celebration of young people and teachers. I want it to highlight the success stories, the triumphs despite adversities. I want it to give an insight into the human stories behind the statistics. And equally, I think one of the best things about the book is the fact that it is not just for teachers and people who are interested in education, but it’s also the story of a young woman and her journey into finding out about herself, her voice and what she cares about. There is humour, warmth, empathy, romance, heartbreak and everything in between. I want readers to experience the same rollercoaster of emotions that I did during my twenties – I want the book to be a window into the unknown and a mirror for reflection.

What made you first want to get into teaching?
I used to volunteer at my sister’s school when I was in college, helping out with things like school productions. Then, when I was at university, I started tutoring younger students and working at a tuition centre for some extra money. It took a while for the penny to drop, but eventually, I realised that this was something I really enjoyed and was quite good at. That’s when I signed up for my teacher training course.

What are you most excited for, what’s next for you?
I have my podcast, “Hidden Lessons”, coming soon, where I speak to interesting celebrities about their time at school, all the things they learnt and how their school experience shaped who they are today – and I am so excited about it! And of course, I would love to see “Hidden Lessons” on the screen, so watch this space!

MEHREEN BAIG

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