Sophia Faridi

State and City of Residence:
Chicago, IL

Job Description: 
11th grade English and 12th grade Journalism teacher

Why do you work in education? 
Teaching is a like a performance, a dance. You have to be prepared, but you also have to quick on your feet. No one tells you that when you first become a teacher. You can't plan for every question you'll get asked or every lesson that doesn't go as planned. There are many times when I don't feel confident as a teacher. After 35 years, I feel like I will still be asking myself the same question: "How can I do better?" But when I see my students making dramatic progress, when they start enjoying themselves, when it becomes a challenge rather than a frustration, then I know I'm doing it right. If you're not afraid to change and learn, not only do you get to watch your students grow, but you do not get to see yourself improve every day, every year. I guess that is one of the things I love most about teaching - it's a constant learning experience for all of us! Teaching makes me a better person.

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community? 
I teach seniors. Those that work with upper secondary students know all to well, it is a unique position for a teacher. So much of their foundational skills are already set in place. My students are just months away from stepping into a world of their own. Part of my job is to make sure they have the skills not only to be successful in their academic pursuits and careers, but to also build the character traits within them that will help them to be informed, inquisitive, thoughtful individuals. 

As a Journalism teacher, one of my main goals is to create within my students’ knowledge and interest in current events that matter. They will be the youngest voters in this Presidential election. I want them to have concern for the world around them and a dedication to being informed, participatory citizens as they move into adulthood. On that note, I do projects that focus on elements of life that they will carry with them. This year, through Donors Choose they did an in depth unit of study on global women's rights and went to see Davis Guggenheim's documentary, I Stand With Malala. 

My students researched and created ad campaigns during the Chicago Mayoral race. They did a social experiment, researching and documenting the effects of random acts of kindness on people in their community. They recorded and published interviews with loved one's through Story Corp's Great Thanksgiving Listen that have now been archived at the Library of Congress. They had articles they wrote for my class published in the Chicago Sun-Times and operate a portion of our school's website. Most recently, they are conducting in depth research on the impact of the Black Lives Matters campaign. Very soon they will begin deciding and supporting which Presidential candidate they want to support. I work with an almost exclusively Latino population of students. Many of their parents and family members are undocumented and do not speak English. They will be the first in their families to have the opportunity to cast their ballot in the United States on behalf of so many that can't.

What’s your favorite part about being an America Achieves Fellow?
I have grown in such incredible ways as an America Achieves fellow. Before joining the fellowship, I was most certainly a passionate and excited educator. I couldn't wait to wake up each morning to work with my amazing students, but I was not fully aware of what was happening in the world of education outside my classroom walls. I didn't realize what kind of reforms were just begin to take shape. I didn't realize how vital the need was for teachers to be involved in this transformation. I didn't understand that there was so much more out there. The resources, tools, and knowledge I have gained through the simply brilliant minds of my educator fellows is something that I could never have dreamed of gaining. I am not only a smarter educator. My whole perspective on what matters and what works has changed. 

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?
Teaching should be celebrated. Many say it is a thankless job, but I don't necessarily agree with that statement because I see and know the gratitude my students feel for what we do on a daily basis. They appreciate us. I will say, however, that teaching and teachers are not celebrated the way they should be. We are the experts, the professionals. We know as much about teaching and education as any doctor knows about medicine, but that doesn't get readily acknowledged. We give our time, hours upon hours, sacrifice our personal lives, dedicate our hearts, yet many of us still live in fear of losing our jobs over union battles and financial strife. Teachers are a rare breed. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's the best job in the world.

What is your biggest inspiration?
My parents of course have always been my greatest inspiration, but my grandparents also played an enormous role in making me what to strive for my best. I don't think people always recognize the incredible impact grandparents have on a child's success. 

What was your most fascinating experience as an educator?                                                     Through my participation with America Achieves, I served as a member of the Teacher Advisory Council for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a result, I had the opportunity to travel to Finland to study the ins and outs of the world's most successful education system. It was by far the most intriguing experience of my life!

What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
I just got engaged this weekend to the love of my life!! Best feeling in the world to know that life eventually falls into place just the way it is supposed to.