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Infusing Passion Into the Prison Classroom

By Christopher Zoukis

When I was in high school, my football coach was also my world geography teacher.  Both in the classroom and on the field he would find ways to motivate us to want to do more, to be more than even we thought we could.

On the field, he’d yell, “Zook, I need a field goal” or “Zook, it’s time for a first down.”  (I was both a kicker and a running back.)  When he would be yelling, he would be making me a part of whatever was going on.  He would be encouraging me.  He would be affirming my value.  And in the classroom, while he wouldn’t yell at any of us (perhaps holler is a better word than yell), he would address us individually and collectively.  He would ensure that all of his world geography students felt a part of the classroom and the experience.  To him, the time on the field wasn’t about football and the time in the classroom wasn’t about our world geography text, it was about us: his students and players.  This interest in us as individuals fermented itself as a passion within ourselves.

Coach’s method of teaching and coaching us was effective.  It connected each of his students and players to the situation and made them feel as though they were responsible for the events which were to come.  By calling on us in the classroom, he showed that he cared and valued our opinions.  By taking the time to explain a football technique prior to its implementation, he implied the value of our skills and our worth of his time.

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Prison Education: Class Conclusion

Looking back upon the experience of creating a course, seeking approval for it, and teaching it, I see tremendous growth in myself. And I see more. I have now come to a greater understanding of what it takes to be a prison educator and what it means to be prisoner-student. Now that I’ve been on both sides of the desk, I feel a sense of understanding I didn’t previously possess, a calm knowledge beckoning me to come forth in the arena that we call prison education.

Throughout this process, I have gone through struggles. I found closed doors when I thought they should have been open. I found a student who signed up for the course, yet refused to even attend one class, stripping another prisoner-student of a seat. And I found, and became well acquainted with, my fear of public speaking.

Throughout this process, I found tremendous successes. I saw men who had been worn down rise to the challenge. I watched as uninspired men became inspired and crafted amazing works. And I perceived the birth of light in eyes where before only darkness resided. That light was the light of hope – a hope that might ferry them out of the abyss of self-indulgence to the land of the living.

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