Prison Teachers: An Untapped Resource

By Janice M. Chamberlin

Whenever I am asked what I do for a living, there is first surprise and maybe a little bit of shock when I say I teach at an all- male prison year round.

I can almost predict what people are going to say. They’ll want to know if I’m afraid. “Is there a guard in there with you? What do you teach them? How do you get them to learn?”

“I wouldn’t do what you do for twice your salary,” is what I’m often told.

Generally, my first response is to tell them it is the most challenging and rewarding teaching I have ever experienced.  I then proceed to explain the setting and offer many stories. My dad, especially, has always said, “You should write a book.” 

Even my colleagues have come to me more than once and said, “What do you do that produces increasing numbers of GED’s every year? What’s your secret? Do you just get the ‘cream of the crop’?”

Well, that has to be a joke, because teaching in a prison, I think the “cream of the crop” would be difficult to find.

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