May 14, 2012

Behind Bars - English in prison: 10

The rewards from teaching come from seeing results -- seeing people achieve things they had set out to do but perhaps didn't think they could do - knowing things now that they didn’t know before. One of the great things about teaching English to adults is the access you have to so many different kinds of people from different walks of life. I don't teach as much as I used to but in the last week I've taught (among others) a professor of economics, a group of farmers, and of course, these men in jail.

Maybe if you closed your eyes you wouldn’t know which lesson was taking place where - primarily the focus on learning, the energy, and sense of complicity - these were all strongly present. (The teaching programme I use for all these courses is the same, so modality and procedures are common – this is the idea of ‘robust design’ I mentioned in an earlier post.)

The levels were different, the mood and rapport - and maybe the ‘etiquette’ had to adapt, and certainly the physical environments were very different. But really what continues to strike me when I teach is that when you get down to things, people are far more similar than they are different – the fact that we are all unique is what we all have in common. And that uniqueness seldom gets in the way when objectives and circumstances in the classroom are shared, and the lesson is in tune enough with individuals’ preferences and expectations. And of course, there needs to be the sense of trust (another long story from a short word).

In the meantime, there have been couple of changes here. Two more of our group have been released: a middle-aged Italian man called Angelo who was very reserved, very courteous and very interested in the lessons; and the Colombian man José has gone home too: it would be daft to say it's a shame, but he was a good presence to have in the group. We've also lost the younger of the two Albanian students, but he's been transferred to a high security prison apparently. So the last three lessons have seen a bit of a dent in our group.

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