In our first Inspirational Women series, we speak with Mehreen Baig who began her career as an English teacher in North London. As an activist turned journalist turned presenter, her writing often covers subjects surrounding Asian women that have been considered taboo. As a result, she has been featured by the BBC, The Telegraph and The Observer.
Mehreen Baig regularly graces our screens with her investigative documentaries and we have seen her front important programmes for the BBC such as Inside Chelsea: Britains Wealthiest Borough, Sunday Morning Live, The One Show, Two’s Pilgrimage: The Road To Rome, Walks of Life, Lost Boys? What’s Going Wrong For Asian Men and Islam, Women and Me.
In 2016, Mehreen took part in BBC 2’s BAFTA–winning documentary Muslims Like Us, which followed a diverse group of Muslims living together in a house. She gave a passionate speech when collecting the award for Reality & Constructed Factual at the 2017 BAFTAs.
On the back of her breakthrough appearance in that programme, Mehreen was widely interviewed and was invited to speak at conferences around the world including The Women’s Economic Forum in New Delhi.
Mehreen is passionate about education and empowering young women which reflects greatly in her work. Her recent collaboration with the BBC is in the form of new podcast, The Secret Life of Teachers, which is currently available to listen to online. Here, you can step inside her virtual staff room to hear what it’s like behind the school gates and what UK teachers really think.
You have been a teacher turned blogger and writer turned TV Presenter- How did your first career influence and inspire your current career?
I have always been passionate about education. As a teacher, I encouraged my students to continue learning outside the classroom – to question what they saw around them, to analyse everything, to form their own opinions. I strongly believe that a lack of education breeds ignorance. Joining the television industry provided me with a greater platform to use my voice and educate people. I still talk about issues I feel strongly about, I still want to be a role model, I still want to challenge stereotypes, but to a larger, wider audience.
Your new podcast, The Secret Life of Teachers, has just launched. Why did you feel this an important topic right now? And how has the reaction been?
I am so excited about this project and the reaction the podcast has received is beyond anything I ever anticipated. During lockdown, parents finally understood how difficult it can be to try and engage and teach young people. Now that schools have reopened, teachers are very much on the front line, risking their lives every single day with hundreds of students in their care. Schools have dominated headlines recently, but we often forget that there are real human beings behind those statistics – and my podcast brings to light the human stories and confessions of what’s actually going on beyond the school gate. It was really important to me that this podcast is not just a regurgitation of facts but to reflect the conversations really taking place in the staff rooms. It highlights the life of teachers, but also through their anecdotes, the lives of young people in Britain today.
2020 has been a year of difficulty for many, whether that be missing family members, health uncertainty or work issues. Have you any tips of wisdom that have helped you through the last few months?
I was so anxious at the start of lockdown for various reasons, and the first thing I had to do was turn off all my social media and stop watching the news. It is easy to get sucked into the negativity. Ultimately, I live by the quote, ‘today is the tomorrow you were worried about, and all is well.” We plan for the future, as if the future is a straight line that we can plot – but life is not like that. We cannot predict the future, so we need to trust that as difficult as things are now, things will fall into place eventually. You must have faith that all will be well.
You have actively given your voice and written about subjects including Action Aid, divorce, Muslim life and questioning if selfies damage the skin! What have you learned about yourself when discussing these topics?
It is not easy exposing your opinions and beliefs to the world to be scrutinised and challenged. All my writing and a lot of the documentaries I did are based on topics very close to my heart and therefore putting it out in the public eye for consumption would certainly fill anyone with trepidation. You have to be very thick skinned. I realised over the last three years, since I joined the media industry, that I’m a lot stronger than I knew.
And what subjects can we expect in the future?
I’m currently filming a Science programme for BBC1 about exercise and working out at home.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To stop doubting myself and my ability.
The Secret Life of Teachers is now available to listen to at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08q8rss