“So what kind of things do you teach . . . . . prisoners?”

3 10 2010

A good friend of mine heard about the start of my teaching career and as I was describing some of my experiences with prison life, I could tell that the wheels were turning in his head. Many people have images of inmates in orange jumpsuits who watch TV all day long. To my knowledge, there isn’t a prison in Canada with an orange dress code.

Institution wear is jeans and t-shirts (white or blue) and runners. And each inmate has a job. For some, their job is cleaning and janitorial. Others work in the kitchen. The desirable jobs are outside (lawn care and yard maintenance), but many inmates have a job centered around their education. We all know students for whom school is a chore, but on the inside, school is a job – and like all jobs, students get paid to attend (up to $6 per day!).

There are 4 different levels of Adult Basic Education. They range from intermediate elementary equivalent to grade 12 equivalent.

ABE Level 1
Covers education up to and including grade 6.

ABE Level 2
Covers education from ABE level 1 up to and including grade 8.

ABE Level 3
Covers education from ABE level 2 up to and including grade 10. The grade 10 programs culminate in the General Education Development (GED) certificate.

ABE Level 4
Covers education from ABE level 3 up to and including grade 12 culminating in either an Adult BC Dogwood Diploma or a regular Grade 12 BC Dogwood Diploma.

In most Institutions, the school is organized into 4 classes and arranged by Education Level. For those wanting to go to school, they must have an Educational Assessment upon their intake that will accurately determine which level they fit into. The primary focus in ABE 1 and 2 is on Language Arts and Numeracy. When students prepare for the GED tests, there are 6 elements that we prepare them for (Science, Social Studies, Writing, Reading, Math 1 – with a calculator and Math 2 – without a calculator). The course work for ABE 4 students is exclusively Distance Education material, meaning that student work is of a correspondence nature with assignments and tests being sent away for marking.

In a Maximum Prison, the classes are organized by population rather than by education level. What this means is that there are 4 “incompatible” inmate populations – the General Population (GPs), Segregation, Protective Custody (PCs) and what is known as Protective, Protective Custody (PPCs). Inmates are placed accordingly and sometimes gang affiliations will be the determining factor on whether an inmate is compatible with the rest of his Unit. At our Institution, there are 3 distinct classrooms, with all ABE levels of students in them, and one teacher whose primary role is to make “home visits” to Segregation where students there are in their cells 23 hours a day. Homework in that Unit is slid under the door, marked and returned the same way.

So to answer my friend’s question from the title of this post, we teach it all – at all levels, in two, 2 1/2 hour blocks each day. There are many similarities to the public school system, but there are also differences. There are lots of Corrections Canada Officers around, so classroom management issues aren’t quite the same. Furthermore, there are no Parent/Teacher Interviews to schedule. Also, there really aren’t the opportunities for keen first-year teachers to get involved in extra-curricular activities: no coaching and no Christmas Productions to prepare for. Finally, there is time throughout the day set aside for marking and prep., something that I know is a rare commodity for public school teachers.

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