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By Christopher Hannigan
Tutor: “This is time for work.”
Student: “You’re not my father.”
Tutor: “You’re not my boss!”
Student: “I don’t give a f@#k about math! This is prison!”
This is an actual verbal exchange between an inmate tutor and student in a one-on-one tutoring session at FCI-Petersburg. So, whose job is it? Is it the teacher/tutor’s job to make sure the student is learning or is it the student’s job? This is in an adult education setting – which carries inherent differences from a youth education setting – hence the issues are even more complex than usual. As an adult, individuals should have developed an understanding of personal responsibilities, priorities, and work ethics. Admittedly, the prison dynamic provides a rather unique role conflict which is not easily remedied.
Let me first clarify. I am stating there is a difference between responsibilities and teaching. Responsibility speaks to the state of being accountable or having control over the learning process. While the act of teaching is the transmitting of knowledge and learning is the acquisition and retention of the knowledge. So, for the remainder of this article, active and passive will refer to the responsibility rather than to the act of teaching.
Let’s take the active scenario. The teacher has the materials already laid out and ready to go before the student arrives. There is a lesson plan in effect and the homework assignment is already prepared. The teacher engages the student first, prompting him or her for answers. The teacher pursues the student in completing the assignments and will drag the student along, kicking and screaming, if need be. This is the teacher that will seek the student out to get an explanation of why a class or homework assignment wasn’t completed or why there were poor results. Clearly, this type of teacher is investing a great amount of time, energy, and emotion into the student’s education.
When I was in high school, my football coach was also my world geography teacher. Both in the classroom and on the field he would find ways to motivate us to want to do more, to be more than even we thought we could.
On the field, he’d yell, “Zook, I need a field goal” or “Zook, it’s time for a first down.” (I was both a kicker and a running back.) When he would be yelling, he would be making me a part of whatever was going on. He would be encouraging me. He would be affirming my value. And in the classroom, while he wouldn’t yell at any of us (perhaps holler is a better word than yell), he would address us individually and collectively. He would ensure that all of his world geography students felt a part of the classroom and the experience. To him, the time on the field wasn’t about football and the time in the classroom wasn’t about our world geography text, it was about us: his students and players. This interest in us as individuals fermented itself as a passion within ourselves.
Coach’s method of teaching and coaching us was effective. It connected each of his students and players to the situation and made them feel as though they were responsible for the events which were to come. By calling on us in the classroom, he showed that he cared and valued our opinions. By taking the time to explain a football technique prior to its implementation, he implied the value of our skills and our worth of his time.