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Q&A: Hanifa Farooq

November 18, 2009|By Zain Shauk

A: I volunteered for the past 4 1/2 years for an organization called Reading to Kids, and they have reading programs every second Saturday of the month at different elementary schools in Los Angeles, low-income areas predominantly. And I would go and volunteer to different grade levels, and you just read to these kids. And it was one of the reading days when I was reading to kindergartners and there was a 4 1/2 -year-old, so he was pre-kindergarten. I was reading a book to him, and the word "leaped" came about, and I knew he didn't know it. So I explained it to the rest of the group. After I finished explaining it, you could immediately see the light bulb in his head and he raised his hand and he said, "Do you mean when I go into a pool I'm not jumping, I'm leaping?" So he was able to make a connection to his own life and use prior knowledge to understand that word. I knew I must've done a good job at explaining for him to get it. And it was at that point where I realized, you know what, I need to be in a classroom because I used to look forward to those second Saturdays all the time.

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Q: Was it tough for you to leave your job?

A: It was extremely tough. I had really good rapport with senior management at my job. I was doing a good job. I had just received a review. The economy wasn't doing well, but I knew I was secure. And I miss that. It was a very difficult decision, but once I told everyone what I was going to do, they were very supportive, which was comforting.

Q: You said you missed that security, so financially how different is it now?

A: There is a difference in pay, obviously, but the rewards being around these students — the satisfaction is immediate. When you work in the corporate world, yeah, you get praised, you get performance reviews quarterly or twice a year, and you look for that. Or you get a pay increase every year, and you look for that. Here, it's every day. Amid the 150 kids I see in my day, if I have at least five that I feel somehow have a connection with what I taught them — to me, ultimately that's my end goal.

Q: Teach for America makes an effort to place its instructors in troubled neighborhoods. How is the environment different from what you might experience as a teacher or student in Glendale?

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