I am very proud of all of the students I teach at my small school. However, last year I was particularly pleased with the progress of one in particular, a shy fifth-grader named Ahmed Ali. When I first came to the school, Ahmed Ali was one of the lowest-performing students. He never raised his hand to answer questions and would often stare blankly at the wall or absentmindedly doodle on the pages of his school book during lessons. He, along with several other weak students, had pretty much been written off by most of the other teachers who would openly call him "stupid" and "very bad". Even my more sensitive coworkers expressed skepticism of his ability to ever improve.
Nevertheless I tried to encourage Ahmed Ali whenever I could. I would call on him to answer questions in class, even when he hadn't raised his hand, gently correct his mistakes, and praise him on the (unfortunately few) occasions he would answer a question correctly. Yet at the end of the first semester he still ended up with a final grade of a meager 34%.
Undeterred, I redoubled my efforts once the second semester began. I not only looked for ways to better Ahmed Ali's grasp of English but also for opportunities to make him a more active and responsible member of our class. He along with all of the students was at one point our Student of the Week (a concept my counterparts and I introduced to the school), charged with making sure all of his classmates were prepared and quiet for class each day. His face lit up when tasked with leading the other boys, which he excelled at. I would ask him to help me with special projects such as designing posters for our room; he particularly liked drawing a small picture of himself as part of a poster about ordinal numbers. I also congratulated him for his excellent efforts on assignments like our alphabet handwriting charts (a side project I created where each student had to completehandwriting charts for all the letters of the alphabet, their progress charted on a classroom poster to encourage friendly competition).
Before long, Ahmed Ali began to show more signs of improvement. He started raising his hand and participating during lessons, coming to me outside of class to ask for help, and he seemed to be in higher spirits throughout the day. When we had our second semester mid-term exam, Ahmed Ali scored a mark of 55%, a vast improvement over his previous exam. We were so proud of his accomplishment that my counterpart and I wrote a note home to his parents (an unusual step at our school) praising Ahmed Ali for his hard work and encouraging more of the same. He continued to show improvement throughout the remainder of the semester, and I was very happy to find that Ahmed Ali's final grade for the second semester was 68%, exactly double his score in the first semester.
Was it worth it? Two years of my life and thousands of taxpayers' dollars to help Ahmed Ali and his handful of classmates at a tiny school nestled in the mountains of northern Jordan? It's not an easy question to answer until you've experienced it for yourself. For my own part, I consider it an honor to have served in the Peace Corps and I would do it all again in a heartbeat….though maybe without the centipedes next time.