I’ve always believed people are people…but I must admit before I first came to teach I had images of Hannibal Lector with his mask and talking about fava beans. I wondered if students would get violent with me. I wondered if some might not like having a white instructor (the inmates are all Native American). The truth could not be further from the Hollywood image or my own ignorance.
I find my time in class relaxing. Yesterday I did some practice testing with students and found myself pacing the floor as I finished reading Frank McCourt’s Tis. The room is barren except for a stack of grey pads in one corner, the long row of tables and chairs filled with orange garbed ladies. There is a window high on one wall which is likely ten inches high by thirty-five or so inches wide. From where I stand I get a perfectly framed vision of Mesa Verde in the distance; it appears like a very realistic landscape image and I breathe out deep.
The class is considered a privilege and I think the students see it that way. I admit there are things I’ve done in my life which might have gotten me in jail- nothing too serious. Anyhow, I keep my time and materials as organized and simple as I can. I try to determine the students’ need and point them in the right direction.
I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. I asked if they were allowed to talk with each other when they are in their cells. “We speak into the vents,” one shared. I guess it is a little like the movies.
The time goes by quickly and soon I find I am reaching for the button alongside of the door. I know someone is watching me from behind a mirrored wall. “It’s Joe in the GED class. We’re done for the day.” The students return their chair into a stack in the corner and file out to walk through the metal detector. I sort my stacks of papers and fill the handled file box. Out the door, down the hall, I buzz my way through a number of doors and out into the world again. Beyond the parking lot, an old mare chews on a tangled mass of sage. This is a fine life, I decide.