Teaching in Prison

By Secret Teacher /  Image courtesy

No bell marks the start of our day. Instead, a slow drip-feed of men in grey tracksuits amble their way into classes. Sometimes 10 sit in front of me, aged 21 up to 60 or 70. They are the disaffected and the despicable. They are the proud, the defensive and the downright disagreeable; funnelled into education during their first days inside, where they complete assessments in literacy and numeracy. Their scores determine their placement into a classroom, and their subsequent opportunities for work.

I didn’t know you could teach in prison until I volunteered at a rehab centre and someone there had learned to read in jail. It was a revelation to me after I’d always sworn that I would never teach, prompted in part by my primary teacher mother: never me, never a teacher. But something clicked and I knew that this was where I would end up. This was my niche; my place to make a difference.

The most challenging part of working with offenders is the disparity between students in the classroom – the range of ages, their level of literacy and their attitude to learning. Often their only common ground is their criminality. Some learners arrive spoiling for a fight, desperate to avoid the torture of school all over again, determined to prove themselves. Behaviour is an issue, with many refusing to work. Challenging inappropriate language is a constant battle when, for some, the f-word is used in every sentence.

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