Nine weeks. Hardly anytime at all. Throughout the session, we’ve sometimes worried that it might be impossible to make any real impact during our short stint here. However, we’ve found that to know even just one student was positively affected is more than enough.
During the third week of my Arts and Crafts class, I called out “Abdel Rahman” while doing attendance, and got no answer. “Thank God," said another one of my students, and everyone laughed. I felt terrible, and even worse when Abdel Rahman came in a few minutes late. From the beginning, he was a disruption in my class. Hyperactive, he was continually jumping out of his chair to hide under the table or throw something out the window. Initially, I was lost in face of this onslaught of energy. It was clear that he was driving the other students nuts and finding it extremely difficult to focus on the projects.
As the session went on, I learned the reason for some of this. Another staff member told me that he was actually only 8, whereas most of the students in my class were 10 and 11. His parents may have lied about his age in order to get him into a TYO class.
I also slowly learned how to handle him. He clearly wanted to participate in class, but his energy level and low tolerance for frustration wouldn’t let him. However, he responded well to one-on-one attention and very specific instructions. The first time I saw another side of him was when we made personal flags in the class. He got excited by the idea of representing himself, and enjoyed the activity even more when a volunteer worked with him, telling him exactly what he needed to do to realize his idea. Later, when the kids were singing to Wavin’ Flag by Knaan and showing off their work, he snuck away to hang up his flag in the corner of the classroom I use to display artwork.
Though he was a difficult student to have in class, Abdel Rahman ended up being one of the kids I connected with most. He could be incredibly sweet, helping me clean up the classroom or find my notebook. My best memory of him is the day he started bringing apples on the bus to the pool-he told me he was eating an apple because I always had an apple on the bus. We sat side by side, contentedly munching our apples, every day for the rest of the session.
“I’m going to have to bump him down a class,” I thought. It was my first week of Community English, and I was in the throws of assessing levels and skills. Everyone seemed more or less at the same level based on classroom participation... except Abdulhamed. He appeared to have a hard time understanding me, and his speaking was even worse. Yep, he had to go down a class.
But I never sent him, and for once, my forgetfulness paid off. Abdulhamed turned out to be one of the brightest and quickest students in my English class. He did all his homework, always was on time to class, and had perfect attendance. In the course of seven weeks, he went from barely speaking and never answering questions to being one of the most talkative students in my class. Recently, I reviewed the written initial assessments from my first week of class and was shocked to see that Abdulhamed had one of the highest scores. Suddenly, it all clicked. Abdulhamed always had the potential, he just was not confident enough at the beginning of the session to use it.
Watching his progress every week, both in self-confidence and English grammar, was always a highlight and an encouragement. During my final week of classes, I held a jeopardy style review class. There was listening, reading, and speaking involved, and it tested all of the topics we had covered throughout the session. Abdulhamed won.
In my Beginner IT class, some of the women had seen a computer before, but hardly anyone could figure out how to turn it on. After pointing out to my students where the power button was, all but one student eagerly powered up their computers. Instead of reaching to the computer she reached into her bag to pull out a pen.
Like many courses in The Women’s Group, the age of my students varied from early twenties to late sixties. The younger women were certainly a bit quicker with learning how to use new programs; however, one of the older students, Malak, did not get intimidated, she got smart.
Every class, Malak had her little notebook in front of her keyboard and took meticulous notes. While this sometimes led her to be a step behind her fellow students, in actuality she was often far ahead. There seemed to never be a class when a student did not forget something and come to Malak for help. She would quickly shuffle through her pages, find the line describing what to do, and then explain to her friend with such warm grandmotherly charm.
Over the course of the summer session Malak mastered multiple programs. She went from holding up and inquisitively examining a mouse, to confidently presenting a PowerPoint to her peers that she had made all by herself. While I am sad to be leaving Palestine soon, I am happy to know that Nablus will continue to be enriched by Malak’s notes, passion, and smile.
In nine short weeks, each one of our students has greatly impacted our lives and future paths. When we return home, we know there will be much time for further reflection. But for now, it is hard not to leave Nablus thinking we are the ones who were taught and changed.