Rahim Essabhai - John Polanyi Collegiate Institute

Year: 2017 – Province: Ontario

Transcript—Rahim Essabhai Video

[Rahim Essabhai speaks to camera, with the Parliament buildings as a backdrop behind him]

[Photos of Rahim and his students are displayed on screen throughout his interview]

[Upbeat music plays softly in the background]

My name is Rahim Essabhai.

[Text on screen: Rahim Essabhai, Ontario]

I currently reside in Scarborough, and I currently teach at John Polanyi Collegiate Institute, which is one of the fastest-growing schools in Toronto over the last couple of years.

I definitely didn't want to become a teacher from the beginning. My mom's a high school teacher. She worked with special needs students. Went the exact opposite way, and I actually have a business degree. In my fourth year in my human resources, I was concentrating on human resources, and I loved training and development but couldn't find an in to it over a couple of years of – in HR sections throughout big corporate Canada. Put in an application, was able to become a high school teacher, which is the best training and development place that anyone can be, right? Definitely training the next generation of people who will be taking care of me, be taking care of our families, and be taking care of our country, literally. If we don't do it in an ethical and with a value framework that should be there, we might be going in a direction that we may not like.

Our learning is a journey. And if we knew the answer of it before we started, it wouldn't be the journey that's for us. And learning just doesn't happen in a textbook. It has to happen in all different, you know, from all different sources.

[Video footage of Rahim receiving his award from Justin Trudeau is intercut]

I think we're all – have our passions, we all have our loves, we all have our values. And just like us as teachers, so do our students. And our students have amazing stories, if we allow them or if we see them to be amazing. I believe all of our students have their stories to tell us. It's just up to us if we want to listen to them. And – and once they know that we listen, the world's your oyster. Anything can be possible, not only for us as teachers, but more importantly, for them as humans.

Student: So the best thing about being in Mr. Essabhai's class is that he leaves it very open-ended for all the students. He is not like the traditional teacher. So his class is very open-ended. You never know what you're going to learn on that day, which gives a general sense of excitement for all the students that come in. And you're always very intrigued about what you're going to learn on that particular day.

[Canada wordmark]

[Music ends]

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Rahim Essabhai

John Polanyi Collegiate Institute
640 Lawrence Avenue W.
Toronto, Ontario  M6A 1B1

Principal: Aiman Flahat
School telephone: 416-395-3303
School email: JohnPolanyi@tdsb.on.ca
School website: www.jpci.ca

Subjects and grades taught: Grade 12, Business

"Legacy is not what you leave for people but what you leave in people", were the words on the wall in a refugee camp library along the Kenyan/Somalian border where Rahim Essabhai trained teachers in 2011. It is now the mantra that guides this business teacher who leads his students to design business projects that are not just for profit, but to give back to a community or provide assistance internationally.

Teaching approach

Rahim Essabhai ensures that students gain skills and abilities that enable them to create business projects that will benefit society. He believes that the best way to teach business is to bring real businesses into the classroom, and regularly brings in community organizations and corporations.

Outstanding achievements

  • Was instrumental in developing a grade 12 business leadership course that integrates the same material taught at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.
  • Led students to raise funds to build a school in Nicaragua, and to create partnerships with businesses to improve the local community.
  • Students have the opportunity to serve as consultants from local NGOs and businesses – including improving client experience at the North York Harvest Food Bank, gathering more accurate harvesting numbers for the school-based urban farm, or working with Metrolinx to help build community within the Rotman School of Management Leadership course.
  • Runs a local club known as CITY (Change Impacting Toronto's Youth) where students create effective campaigns that address various social issues on a local and global scale.

Rave reviews

"His course is now regarded as one of the most prestigious and sought after courses in our school community. The reputation of this program is quickly spreading globally largely due to the commitment and creativity of Mr. Essabhai and the team from Rotman."


"Success isn't money to me anymore. I count success by the number of lives I have touched. I can only dream that one day, I will be able to have a career where I can touch as many lives as you have."

Former student