Monday, June 25, 2007

Opening up a new class

I'll have to go all over the yard to recruit students, but my reputation has preceded me, so it should be easy to get 28 and a waiting list.

I actually ENJOY this, more than any of the many other things I do. I'm not a cupcake or a pushover, but I am firm, fair and predictable. I run the class on a strict schedule, much like a kindergarten class.

My two clerks (both Life Without) are very OCD, so the room is perfection itself. All the books are filed, so it is easy to start a student as soon as I test him for his English abilities. Every file is updated immediately and the paper work is immaculate. Every drawer, every cabinet is labeled so that I know what is in there.

My porter has been my porter off and on for the last eight years. Tomorrow, he is stripping and buffing my floors, so the shine like glass. I appreciate him as much as I do my clerks...he comes in at lunch and after class has been dismissed to wipe everything down with an antibacterial wash. I'll have a preponderance of inmates who are fatally ill, so I really appreciate this little kindness. When I lose a student, the class will write letters to the family, so that they have that comfort...their boy was not just an unknown number.

Those few students who have signed up for class came in this afternoon and wrote essays, telling me WHY they wanted to come to school. The essays were in Spanish and told me how much schooling they had already and what their personal goals were. Since they are in Spanish (and so pretty private), I'll be posting them on the wall with some kind of snappy saying in Spanish meaning "Your future does not simply occur. You must first have a plan."

Tomorrow, I put up bulletin boards. I'm using fadeless paper in turquoise, grass green, yellow and hot pink. As you must know, there is very little color in a prison and even less in the classrooms. I like to make my room a safe haven that LOOKS like a place where learning takes place.

I have a large set of Nat'l Geographic videos that we will watch in English, in Spanish, in English with subtitles, in Spanish and then again in English with subtitles. I have Nat'l Geographic photos that have been mounted and laminated; I have about 30 for each movie, so that every day, no matter what level the student is on, they can write about the picture.

I also teach them how to write legible cursive (D'Nealian) and life skills, as well as rewriting and illustrating children's books in both English and Spanish, to send home to their children. I want them to be proud of what they learn and share it with their families.

Each man has a story; a future; a family. My goal is to help them discover themselves in class. I can't change what goes on outside of class...the kind of prison I teach at is a very hard row to hoe. It is violent, lonely and difficult, especially if you don't speak English.

I do all the translating (Mainly Spanish, but also Illekano and Tagalog), so it is good practice for me, too. I do all of the concurrent translation in writing, too....I'm rusty now, but in six months, I'll be speaking more Spanish in a day than English.

Despite my "mission" to give these men a second chance in life, I know that prison is the best place for them. They have committed terrible crimes and because of their lack of good sense, as far as choices go, I treat them with the same respect I expect.

So far, it works both ways. I learn far more from my inmates that they learn from me. But that's the way it has always been for me...anyone can teach the subject content that I do. It is the personal growth (usually mine), that makes my work meaningful.

Where I work, I have former students incarcerated and former students who work there. They are each individually recognizable to me and are always happy to know that I remember them personally. No matter what they are doing with their lives, each time I run into them, it gives me great please to know that I recognize THEM.

They were and are distinctive individuals and important enough to me that even 35 years later, I can remember their names, their families and usually even the school they attended. (I can't remember to buy trash bags, but I think that is a different part of my brain!)


Marji said...

No, Dearest. Not everyone can teach content. I used to think that, too. Teaching is an avocation, just like the church. You have to know your subject, you have to know how to teach. It's hard, hard work.

Damned few do it well. And that includes a lot of the credentialed teachers we have both worked with.

Paulie said...

It is good to see you posting again. No one can say your day is dull.