Jan 24, 2012

behind Bars: English lessons for inmates: part 4

Lesson four
For every up there is a down lying in wait, and today was really frustrating all-round - no buzz in the air and spring in my step after this lesson. Again - all down to unfavourable circumstances. I made my way to the ‘good’ classroom but it was taken. Two of my students had now arrived and we found another room that seemed reasonable and began to move the chairs and tables to the way we wanted them only to be then told that this classroom was booked too. So, and by now there were four of five of us we had to go to the only free room left, a long narrow room with paper-thin walls.
Last year I taught at lunchtime and finding a decent room wasn't a problem, however this year I’m teaching in the mornings at the same time as other programmes take place (I’d managed to get the ‘good’ room for the last two lessons because these other courses were suspended for the Christmas holidays). For example, there are literacy courses mainly for North African and Asian inmates, and apparently prisons are obliged to provide education to Italian inmates who don’t have minimum academic qualifications, which is the middle school diploma (Italian school-students normally change from middle school to high school at the age of 14), so there are regular school subjects being taught too. Anyway as our lessons involve a lot of talking and the lesson next door evidently requires a lot of silence, the paper thin walls were not great. When there was talking from next door we could hardly hear what we were saying and we must have been disturbing them quite a lot, to the point that there were frequent bangs and knocks from the other side.
Again, the simple fact of students not being able to turn up to the lesson on time was a major problem -- one man was only able to arrive five minutes before the end of the lesson. To make things even more unsettled, on two occasions guards came in to call out inmates (to their surprise and with no explanations offered).
It's still not clear exactly who or how many are on the course -- the intense guy who hadn't appeared since lesson one was back and seemed relaxed and friendly. Another man who I had only seen for the last 20 minutes of the second day's lesson was back as well: he was a complete beginner but looked very keen and earnest and nodded a lot as he followed what we were trying to do. I was able to give him limited dedicated attention but among the general confusion, not enough. Anyway, the good news is that I have permission to do two lessons a week from now onwards -- everyone seemed very pleased to hear it. Let's hope that internal communications work a bit better so that the students get out of their cells in time for their lessons. I spoke to the duty guide about getting a quieter room, but as I've learnt is the case it is not something that any individual can decide – “I’m afraid you have to do make an official request”.

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