My Philosophy of Teaching College Composition to Prisoners

Education is very important for any individual, regardless of his or her social standing, cultural background, race, ethnicity, religion and other issues. All people need education because it is through education they can progress and become better. At the same time, many people are deprived of education opportunity. For instance, prisoners have little opportunities to obtain education of a high quality. This is why I decided to use my experience, knowledge and my educational skills and abilities to teach prisoners. At the same time, I am conscious of the fact that teaching college composition to prisoners is quite challenging but, frankly speaking, this is exactly what I do enjoy about teaching because I can hardly express the feeling, when I see that a person I teach grows aware of his or her progress in learning as he or she expands her knowledge and acquires new skills and abilities.

In fact, I decided to turn myself to teaching after my retirement from the US military. However, I had to choose what to teach and my choice was the College Freshman Composition to prisoners in the Ryan Correctional Facility (for men) in Detroit. In fact, this choice was probably driven by personal motives because I recall myself, when I decided to enter a college and I have no one to help me to learn how to write college freshman composition, whereas the composition was crucial for my overall success in entering the college and learning successfully. I understand how difficult it is for prisoners to write a college freshman composition because many of them have poor education and they feel being outcasts. My task is to help them to believe that they can be successful and that they can change their life for better and enter a college, whereas a college freshman composition is just a step on their way to a new life.

When I think of reasons why I teach college composition to prisoners, it occurs to me that I like seeing students become more proficient writers and active participants of the academy discourse community. Often, I see students, who have enormous writing potential, who have great ideas and who have extensive life experience, which they are eager to convey through writing.

Many of my students have their own philosophy, which may be quite unusual but they have great potential as writers or, at least, as college students.
I also enjoy seeing my students get published. 114 students have been published so far in local, state, or national newspapers, trade journals, or magazines. 3 have had novels published and 2 have had their life stories published. Obviously, being published is a great success for any student, especially for a prisoner, who has never believed that someone is interested in his ideas or writing. When I work with my students, I just try to help them to become more confident in their abilities to write good compositions and articles. At the same time, my task is to make the confident in the tolerance of the society and its ability to treat them as equal. I often try to show my students that what they write is interesting for other people and each individual can convey unique ideas and messages the public perceives eagerly.

As I started to work with my students in prison, I had to develop the effective methodology of teaching because my students were quite different from what other educators are accustomed to. As I have already mentioned above, many of my students had poor educational background but many of them were eager to learn and to write. This is why I started teaching them by fostering critical analysis through collaborative learning exercises designed to improve student writing performance. Students engage in small group and large group exercises to collaboratively produce compositions. While working in groups, students learn to work in a team. They collaborate and together they can create better writing works because they can edit each others’ writing, bring in new ideas to the group work, and, thus, to improve the overall group performance. Individual writing is done both in and out of class to reinforce what they have learned. In this regard, I would like to place emphasis on the fact that individual work is very important because students should be aware of their ability to work without the assistance of their peers or educator. My work centers around collaborative learning theories and writing/rewriting theories. I feel students best learn to write and to participate in the academic discourse community using these methods. In fact, I observed that students can have good ideas but they often fail to create good writings, whereas the group work help them to “polish” their writing and to create really good compositions because they share ideas and evaluate critically writing of each other. In such a way, they learn to think critically and analyze their works.

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