Humans of Downsview: Rabia Khokhar – educator, student, librarian, and writer

Rabia Khokhar is a Long Term Occasional Elementary Teacher in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My dad is always reminding people of when I was 4 years old and how I would come home from Kindergarten and play ‘teacher’ with my family members and stuffed toys.”

Rabia is proud to have helped create a library that resonates with the students.

She was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the Downsview area with her family when she was 6. Growing up Rabia spent many hours at the Downsview Public Library. She reflects, “it is such a vibrant and happening place! It has helped solidified my belief in the importance of public libraries for all members of a community. I remember in high school I volunteered for the Leading to Reading Program and wrote for the Scribbles newspaper for teens. I fondly remember hours of sitting, reading books and chatting with friends. Even to this day, every time I visit this library it feels like home.”

This love for libraries and community has turned into a lifelong passion for Rabia. As an educator and librarian, she is very proud to have a library that is the heart of her school’s community.

She explains, “[w]hen designing our library our goals were to have a social justice and equity lens and this meant we wanted to pay attention to the books, physical environment and learning opportunities for our students. We were very lucky to have funding to buy 200 new books for our students which showed diverse people and lived experiences. Our students were so excited to read and see these new books on display! We also wanted to have differentiated learning spaces for our students like a: technology zone, whole group, small group and independent spaces. We wanted our students to be part of creating their learning space, so we got them to help us make the signs and art in our library.”

The support from her Principal allowed for Rabia’s success in implementing their library program.

Rabia attributes part of the success in her library to the support she received from her Principal, “I think our library program was successful because of the support from my Principal who really supported all ideas and was excited about them. It is so important to have a vision of the library that aligns with the administrator’s because that really helps to move things forward.” 

When she is not working as a librarian and educator, Rabia is pursuing a Master’s in Education at York University. She expresses that this is one of her biggest accomplishments, as it complements the work she does during the day.

Some books that Rabia helped bring to the school.

“I know that a Master’s classroom is a very privileged space, but I think the real accomplishment will be if I am able to take this new learning and language of ‘access’ and ‘translate’ it to those around me whether that’s family, friends and my students.” She is inspired and guided by a quote from Rebecca John and aspires to live as such: 

“What did I know about oppression if I read about it in a classroom? Why was what I saw as a ‘revolutionary education’ distancing me from my family? I realized that there was no point in knowing the language of social justice if I couldn’t communicate with it to those closest to me”

Rabia paired her master’s education and work to write an article recently published by the Canadian School Libraries Journal. The article outlines Rabia’s school’s journey in designing a Library Learning Commons through an equity lens and what it can look like in one school community. It also discusses the important role of mentors for new teachers like her.

As if Librarian, Educator, and Master’s Student was not enough,  Rabia is also working on writing a small picture book. She explains: “As a visible Muslim woman a lot of students ask me ‘Ms.Khokhar what’s that on your head?’ so in some ways I am hoping the book addresses this question in a child friendly way.”

When she looks at the future, she would love to have a permanent teaching position as a teacher-librarian and become an equity coach or consultant. 

Read her article about equity and diverse representation here:  https://journal.canadianschoollibraries.ca/designing-an-llc-through-an-equity-lens-and-ensuring-diverse-representation/ 

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