“Students are more likely to succeed in a place where they feel known and cared about.”
For those who have passed through some level of higher education this statement can be attributed to common sense. Unfortunately, education in general – and prison education specifically – tends to forget about this. We have a tendency to think of prisoners as rough and hardened persons who need to be dealt with and controlled, not as students who desire and need a healthy learning environment to facilitate growth.
What needs to happen is a re-defining of the correctional education environment. We need to forget about the bars and focus upon the books. We need to ignore the uniforms and embrace the person. By doing so, by including common sense and compassion, our students will respond.
Try implementing the following ideas:
One, make your students feel known and cared about by showing them that you see them as individuals, not some class of criminals. As a prison educator you can do so by greeting your students by name or even just the class as a whole. The point is to greet THEM, not just go through the motions. Let them know that you see them and care enough about them to say “hello.”
Two, do not allow anyone to impede anyone else’s education. Do this by having a zero tolerance policy on making fun of or laughing at any fellow student. By the same token, have a zero tolerance policy on aggression in the classroom. If you have a student being picked on or intimidated, you can guarantee that he/she is not thinking about the lesson, but upon keeping their guard up.
Three, when possible, check in with your students in private. Perhaps you could have a quick private meeting with each student once a week in the hallway? During this meeting you can ask the student if everything is going well with them and how they like what they’re doing. It is during such interludes that vital connections can be made, an honest interest can be shown, and the student can feel safe enough to divulge problems (e.g. that they’re having difficulty with reading or some other skill).
Four, do what you can to appear approachable. This means being nice, yet solid. There is a fine balance between being friendly and a push-over. Find it. Also, be mindful of your mannerisms. Try to smile when possible. If possible, don’t appear rushed. Look your students in the eye and try to convey your interest in assisting them in their education.
Last, ask questions and pay attention. Remember, this is THEIR education that you are facilitating. The same assignment will not work for every student and every student will progress at their own pace. Hence, be open and receptive to modifying tasks that need to be modified. You do so by opening your eyes and seeing your students as people, not numbers or prisoners.
If you follow these suggestions your classroom will become that much more conducive to learning and your students will appreciate the extra attention that you give them. All of this leads to the win-win situation of a healthy classroom environment propelling itself. This is what I call a “teacher’s dream.”