As you’ve probably noted from the delays in posting about my ‘Writing and Publishing’ class, everything is not going as planned. To date, I have taught three classes to my third cohort of students and had to cancel three additional classes. Let’s take a look at this for a moment.
As a professional – as I consider myself – I find it important to be where I’m supposed to be when I say that I will be there. This amounts to an issue of respect. I respect my work and my students enough to be not only prepared to teach my class from 7:00-8:30 p.m. every Monday night, but to also show up prepared to teach as my students show up prepared to be taught. Sadly, this belief doesn’t transcend to the staff member in charge of opening the Education Department on Monday nights.
While we’ve had class three times in the last six weeks, we’ve missed class once for a holiday closure and twice more because the staff member who is supposed to open up the Education Department didn’t show up to work. I can’t tell you how infuriating this is .
Usually I attempt to temper my emotions and writings on this subject of staff misconduct. I do so because a large portion of my readership is correctional educators. But I’m just so fed up with this that I need to bring this issue to the table. After all, it’s not fair for over 100 students to miss out on classes, law library, and leisure library time because one staff member doesn’t want to show up to work. Even worse is that this single staff member does so on a regular basis!
The sad truth of the matter is that my 8-week class usually takes a total of 12 weeks to complete because of cancelled classes. This in itself takes a huge toll on me – the instructor – and on my students. It is emotionally fatiguing to plan and prepare for class, just to be turned away upon arriving and finding the Education Department door locked and the lights off.
I know that we’re just incarcerated students and incarcerated educators, but we deserve better than this. We deserve classes to be held when we are told they’ll be held. We deserve to learn when we sign up for a class. We deserve not to be jerked around or have our educational pursuits altered or cancelled when we’ve done everything right.
What is often not seen by the administration is the impact these delays take on instructor and student alike. As an instructor, I feel as if my work is being discounted and my person is being disrespected. After all, I all but volunteer to teach and spend all of the money awarded me ($5 per month) on supplies and copying for my class. My students, on the other hand, don’t understand my role in this situation and hence react inappropriately.
My students figure that cancelled classes are my fault. They think that I should have done something to ensure that classes are held when they are supposed to be. I try to explain that I’m in the same shoes as them, but this is often discounted.
Outside of their thoughts toward my role, they become mentally tired with classes which last longer than expected. Some have to move around other activities to be able to attend class. So, they look forward to returning to their old schedule after class. Each delayed class feels like a slap to their face. They feel disrespected by the unannounced delays and frustrated when nights supposed to be spent in class are spent stuck in a housing unit or simply wasted from a productivity standpoint.
For all involved, the incarcerated that is, the following is a rundown of the various emotions felt:
None of these are emotions/reactions which we want our students to feel. They lead to students dropping out of class, the classes themselves being less effective, and the instructors losing faith in the system which they are attempting to promote. As you can see, a little thing like cancelling a class, when done on a regular basis, has a profound effect upon those involved.
From an empathetic stance, I understand that problems do arise. I understand that there will be times when staff members have to deal with problems at home (e.g. kids sick, car broken down, doctor’s appointment), but when this occurs on a regular basis, the whole system unhinges itself. Pardon me for being old fashioned, but if someone either can’t or won’t show up to work on a regular basis (whether it’s every Monday or every Thursday night or whatever it might be), a change needs to be made. The person either needs to be reassigned, the program’s hours need to be changed, or perhaps some other more drastic change needs to occur.
If we as correctional educators want our students to believe in the power of education as we do, we need to respect them enough to do everything in our power to make sure that educational programming occurs when we say it will. We need to show up when we say we will and make adjustments when something is not working as it should. If not, we are telling them that we – as many outside of prison believe – just don’t care or believe in them. For our sake, for America’s sake, and for our student’s sake, don’t let this be the message conveyed.