Updated: May 2, 2020
When I taught in a maximum-security prison, each day I had to walk through a metal detector, just like all other employees.
When I walked out into the Walls, I could look up and see sharpshooters, armed with guns, ready to protect me. Then there were other metal detectors that each offender and staff walked through again, once inside the Walls. So, think about this: Where would be the safer place to teach; walking into a public school, where kids carry backpacks and have no metal detectors to walk through; or a prison, where the security is high and there truly is much less chance of a student having a gun?
How many school shootings have you heard of in a prison? Just something to think about.
As I reflect on my time working at the prison, I am often reminded of the reaction I received from others, when I told them what my job entailed. I received a similar look of disbelief each time, and they would wear that “are you crazy?” expression, on their faces. I was always asked ‘Was anyone killed while you were there” or “Weren’t you scared that you would get raped” or “Was there a lot of bloodshed” … . Only my family asked if my students were working hard and accomplishing their goals.
I want to make something clear right off the bat. There was never a fight in the school, the entire three years I worked there. The school got to be named “The Safe Zone,” by some of the offenders. People assumed that I was exposed to a lot of ugliness and scary moments, while I was teaching at the penitentiary. My friends worried that I saw fighting, bloodshed, drug abuse and other shady aspects of life in a prison. I was perhaps witness to some fights, but then, as I reflect on my many years in the public-school system, I was often exposed to those same unsettling events. As a high school math teacher, I saw hunger and pain, abuse and fighting, right inside the halls of our small town schools.
As teachers, we are witness to many wonderful moments in a child’s life, but we are also witness to some very scary things. We are often the first to notice if a child has a new bruise on his arm, or if there are cut marks when a young lady reaches for a pencil. We notice when a student’s grade suddenly drops, or when he is hanging out with a rougher crowd. We are often the first line of defense, and the one kids come to, when we earn their trust.
It was the same for me, in the prison setting. My students trusted that I was there to help them reach their goals of receiving their diplomas. This trust was the motivation they needed to keep working, even when they failed a test. There was success, even when a student was being pressured by a cellmate to give up on his studies. I admit, there were also some fights and even bloodshed, in different areas of the prison, but that is not unlike the world in which we live. But, there was hope, especially when I visited them in solitary confinement. These visits reassured my students that I would not give up on them.
That is what teachers do. We put ourselves in front of our students and tell them we are here for them. We are here to educate them, but also to support them, to push them, to listen to them and to help them, when they feel there is nowhere else to turn.
I love being a teacher, no matter where the location of my classroom! I am proud to call myself a teacher.
Be Brave Enough to Make a Change.