Making a Difference in the Classroom

RLHS history teacher Mohammad Ali wants his students to know the importance of perseverance and determination.

History teacher Mohammad Ali has been teaching at RLHS for five years, making sure his students know not only the importance of history, but the importance of education.

John Brown

History teacher Mohammad Ali has been teaching at RLHS for five years, making sure his students know not only the importance of history, but the importance of education.

John Brown and Kevon Elzey

Two worlds collided  for the young boy as he stepped off the plane in America. He had started out his morning in Iran, surrounded by war, violence, and crime. He ended his evening in the United States, surrounded by a happy family inside a warm home with a bright blue sky overhead. He felt the first world crumble and fade, and a sense of relief took over. And yet, part of the young Mohammed Ali was frightened. After all, he had come to the United States entirely on his own and faced an unknown future of a new life with a foster family he did not know. But Ali knew this was the life his parents wanted so desperately for him and so he vowed to explore this new country and take all of the opportunities it had to offer.

Mohammad Ali is a teacher in the history department at Round Lake High School. He has been teaching at the high school for about five years and found his passion for teaching at a young age. Ali has a very strong passion for teaching his students not only about history, but also about life skills. He does this because of the difficult times he went through at a young age. Ali did not have an easy life as a child. He has been through many things that no human being should have to go through. Although he had a very rough past, he persevered through those times and made it to success. He hopes to continue to teach students about the values of education and why students should care about their future.

Growing up, Ali’s family was caught up in the war between the Iranian and Iraqi soldiers in the 1980s. Ali’s parents dreamed of a better life for Ali and his sisters.  They had planned to take the family and try to make it to Germany, but only made it to Pakistan, where they settled.  The Pakistani government attempted to force Ali’s family to change their religious beliefs, but his parents refused. “The Pakistani government officials came over one day and beat the whole family up,” Ali said. The assaults resulted in many serious injuries. Ali was injured and left totally blind in his left eye.

Because of their persecution, Ali’s parents felt they had to move to a safer place. “ The U.S. was one place where my family always knew would be a place where it does not matter what background, what religious background you are, you had the freedoms to practice and not practice anything and they chose the United States for that,” Ali said. When Ali and his family tried to move to the United States, however, the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan was only allowing asylum for one refugee per family. Ali’s parents were forced to send their son to the U.S. entirely on his own.   “[I remember]standing at the immigration office, not knowing anything that was happening,” Ali said. This brand new country was an entirely new world for Ali, bringing him to the third largest city in the country: Chicago, Illinois.

Ali was very motivated and got his first job in America at seven years old, once he learned that hard work and education were the tickets to a successful life. He  worked as a bathroom cleaner at the 7/11 store on Devon Avenue, and fondly recalls the owners letting him get his breakfast and lunch there.

Ali would often move foster families either due to a lack of space or money.  In his freshman year of high school, he started off in English as a Second Language level one, only knowing some English fundamentals.  Ali used every resource he had and with his hard work and determination, he was able to catch up and excel in high school.

Ali’s biggest inspiration in high school was a teacher named Mr. Evans, who taught history and was a dean. Ali knew that he had a passion for history and wanted to be a teacher since he was a junior in high school. “I had two choices, hanging out with the cool kids, which were usually gang members, or hanging with the nerdy kids,” Ali said, noting that he hung out with the nerdy kids. Ali worked extremely hard to catch up with his classmates in his school work.  Ali received a 33 on his ACT, and had the opportunity to go an Ivy League school, but couldn’t due to the fact that he had not yet taken a citizenship test.

Ali was very depressed about not being able to get into a good school and decided to take an Amtrak train to San Francisco, California and explore the city with a friend for a few days. After forgetting the return ticket back to Chicago, Ali and his friend rented a car and drove back. After Ali and his friend drove for several days, they decided to stop at a local motel in Laramie, Wyoming. While staying at the motel, Ali heard about the University of Wyoming and decided to stay there and get an education, where the university gave Ali a deal.  He was offered a job at the motel and worked nights while he attended college.

After obtaining his teaching degree, Ali moved on to teach in the Chicagoland area for about seven years. Finally, Ali looked for teaching jobs in Lake County and found that there was a position at Round Lake High School.

Ali began teaching at Round Lake high school about  five years ago. The reason he chose to teach in Round Lake is because of its diversity. “ I wanted to be a part of a school that was racially, ethnically diverse,”Ali stated. Round Lake High School was the one place where Ali felt he had a connection to the students. Students seem to have a positive outlook on Ali. Sophomore and current student, Zaida Pineda said, “ I think Mr. Ali is a really good person. He is always positive and is very motivating to me. I think he is very brave for telling our class about his experiences in his early childhood and how he can deal with them now. He encourages me to work really hard and try my best on every assignment.

Outside of the classroom, Ali has his own food business on the side as well. He takes people to different neighborhoods in Chicago where they try many different foods. Ali’s city excursion  is very similar to the show Check Please on WTTW.

Ali is a man who has most likely seen it all: the persecution of his religion, the struggle of living without his family, and the difficulty of going through high school, but he always persevered, so it makes sense that his motto is to never give up on anything. He often references Abraham Lincoln in his classes because Lincoln often failed, but never gave up.  Each time Ali stands in front of his students, he sees students with potential and it reminds him why he wanted to become a teacher. He not only wanted to educate students in history, but he wanted to educate them in life. Ali believes in teaching students that success is not given easily; success is something that is earned with hard work and dedication. By having these things, any person can achieve great things.  From the confused little boy that came to America, to the successful history teacher who inspires his students every day, Ali indeed proves how important it is to stay committed to a dream no matter the obstacle.