When you went to school (much like other bright-eyed youths before you), I bet, you imagined yourself getting your degree, going out into the world and trying to change it! All of that is extremely admirable, but far from reality. Unfortunately, the real world is much more preoccupied with numbers and results than change. So, after years of trudging along trying to make do with a normal teacher’s salary, you see an ad for a Correctional Facility Teacher, it pays double what you are getting at public school and comes with a handsome benefits package…so what is being a Prison Teacher really like? Well, let’s take a look at what it takes to teach the criminally insane.
It Actually Helps
I am not saying early and secondary education doesn’t help, but some studies show that crime and educational level is inversely correlated. Meaning the lower the level of education an individual has, the higher the chances are that at some point during their life they will be incarcerated. More compelling evidence shows that incarcerated inmates who enroll in vocational (technical skills), and general education programs are more likely to find jobs when released and less likely to re-incarcerated.
It’s a significant effect too, according to that same study, prisoners that participate in education during their incarceration are 43% less likely to reenter the prison system and are 13% more likely to find employment when they are released. For the politicians and bankers in the crowd: it makes fiscal sense as the educational courses cost one-tenth what it cost to re-incarcerate people. So if almost half of the people that are in correctional educational programs never return to prison, you are saving a huge amount of money.
You Can Make A Difference
Finally a job where you make a difference. Your 21-year-old self-dressed in a black cap and gown would be so proud. Sure, you can make a difference, but don’t expect it to be easy. You are dealing with a group of students that have varied psychological profiles, diverse literacy levels and are often difficult to work with due to defenses developed while living on the fringes of the law and society. On the other hand, many of the pupils you will encounter will be willing participants in the educational process; they too realize how important education is for their reintegration into society. This is especially true of the prisoners that choose to earn their high school equivalency course (GED in the United States).
When teaching within the prison system another obstacle a teacher might come across is disparate life experiences. For example, the author of the following passage writes about an incident where he was explaining how distance and sound are connected. He explained that sound needs time to travel and gave the pupils the formula. After ruminating for a while, an inmate said: “so if I shoot a gun, and a cop is three miles away that gives me 15 seconds to hide” to which the teacher said with hesitation yes. As anyone that has taught will know, the ability to make the lesson/curriculum relative to the learner is crucial for retention of the information taught.
Most of the research I have stumbled upon indicates that most prison teachers aren’t regularly exposed to danger. But they are often escorted to and from the classroom, and guarded during the lesson. There are almost always contingency plans in place if anything happens, and most classrooms have panic buttons that can be pressed when the teacher needs assistance. You are not allowed anything on your person that can be used against you in a bad situation and often the teachers are put through exhaustive training regarding hostage taking protocols and prisoner treatment.
At the same time, I have found numerous cases where prison teachers were attacked and assaulted both physically and sexually. Human error, unfortunately, is to blame for most of these instances, and the damage the victims receive is often extensive. Also, as the teacher becomes closer with the inmates, the teachers begin to see the prisoners’ humanity which makes them lower their guard.
It’s a prison, and thus you will have to have your head on a swivel (as they say in the military). Although prison classrooms are thankfully devoid of objects that can be used as weapons, prisoners are known to be creative with what they use to maim. This can be a pen or even a sharpened pencil. And what kind of classroom doesn’t have writing implements?
But with writing implements comes restrictions, there are harsh rules that mandate exactly what can and can’t happen in a prison including drawing erect or ejaculating penises on the chalkboard or smartboard…what can I say censorship is everywhere. Beyond that, you aren’t allowed external communication including cell phones, laptops, tablets and USB media storage devices. Now try writing a lesson plan without an internet connection, not an easy task huh?
Well, beyond the moral benefits of helping individuals that probably were never helped, prison teachers receive a respectable benefits package and a much better salary than they would have in the public school system.
You are entering a microcosm when you enter a correctional facility; there are subcultures, social faux pas and egregious acts that will make you a target. It’s almost like going to a foreign country, but populated entirely by criminals (I know Australia would be an obvious choice for a cheap joke, but I’m better than that). Gangs exist behind the razor wire like they do on the street, snitches are seldom appreciated and often disposed of in murderous ways and certain ethinic groups will not be able to co-exist in the same space.
These all have to be considered when you are teaching in a prison. Sure it seems hard, it seems like treading on eggshells, but more often than not a prison teacher can actually make a difference, for themselves and others, maybe even for society as a whole.
See Also: Insane Career Paths: Pirate
Do you know someone or are you yourself a prison teacher? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below!