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About the Author:[edit]


For the past 15 years, I have worked for the Virginia Department of Correctional Education (DCE), most recently as its public relations officer. I began as a volunteer tutor, became a part-time night teacher and jumped when the opportunity arose to teach full-time in a prison near my hometown. As Chris Brown would say, I am just a country boy from Tappahannock, VA. Most recently I have coordinated a youth-school art show in the lobby of the Virginia General Assembly Building. It ran February 2-6, and it was a great show!


I also coordinate a Virgina Commonwealth University course where undergraduates tutor DCE youth-school students. Additionally, I write stuff - the newsletter is printed by inmate students and they do a bang-up job! As part of my job, I deal with media types. Otherwise I serve as chauffeur, tote-boy and chief bottle washer. As a sideline, I shoot pictures for the local newspapers, especially high school sports and most prominently, basketball. Oh, and ladies, don't even think about it, for I am blindly, blissfully in love.

My educational philosophy:[edit]

Philosophy is for philosophers. Teaching is for teachers. Most of all, education must be relevant. I can teach more with a single copy of USA Today than I could ever ween out of a shelf of textbooks. Students must see importance in what they are learning, and they must self-teach.

I never lectured.

My students worked in groups. As an adult educator, I understood the need for fulfillment, that is, the patching of the potholes in their learning. I believed, whether it was true or not, that I could look at a man's Test of Adult Basic Education and sense what he needed. Ask him to work some math, write a paragraph, talk about himself, and anyone who is listening can sense what that man needs to pass the GED.

And hear this. I lived for the thrill. When a man for the first time understands, when he first comprehends or calculates something from his every day world that had previously baffled him, it is magic. His eyes light up. He smiles, and he becomes a learner. And to be part of that is better than catching any big fish, hitting any hole-in-one, snapping any front-page shot. Humans are learning machines, and if I can help one man improve in this respect, well, it feels like I have experienced a miracle.

The Department of Corrections allowed me to hire tutors, and I did so liberally. Inmates working with other inmates were often far more effective than I could be, and my primary job in those situations was to get out of the way.

I lived off mistakes. My greatest teaching moment came the night when I hurriedly chalked up a solution to a math problem. The room had been buzzing with elementary-level readers struggling over their words, GED students scripting basic essays, sports junkies quietly arguing the true meaning of the latest statistics in the newspapers. And suddenly one of the three or four men I was tutoring said, "You made a mistake."

The room went quiet, and suddenly, all eyes were on me, and I was in the midst of a pure mathematics laboratory.

Henceforth, I made mistakes on a regular basis.

Another great mistake was in a poster for which I paid your and my good tax dollars. My room was filled with posters, usually biographic sketches of the famous and sometimes infamous. My favorite was the sketch of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for it said, that he was assassinated on April 14, 1968. For the uninitiated, Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

(U2 fans know it by "Pride" (and the lyrics "early morning April 4, a shot rang out in a Memphis sky"). U2 performed the song on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial not far from where Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech and two days before the Obama inauguration - as part of inaugural celebration.)

I challenged every new student to find the mistake in the poster.

Often, I dealt with students who suffered learning disabilities, brain damage or dyslexia. My worst/best dyslexic student was a rather fantastic artist. He drew extremely well, and for his frustrated efforts in trying to read, I allowed him nearly an equal time in drawing. I would try to teach him to read, and then he would try to teach me to draw. I am not sure if he learned, but he never dreaded my class, and I looked forward to seeing him.

I always tried to keep relevant topics and exercises in play. My students learned to write checks, read medicine bottles, understand weather maps and the like. They read simple items about proper diet, high blood pressure, AIDS and how to obtain a driver's license.

Writing assignments often were letters home or sometimes letters to lawyers. Once my students wrote to their favorite sports teams seeking memorabilia. Before long, we had posters, bumper stickers, a few pennants and every kind of media guide in the classroom.

Also, I tried to be fair, consistent and straight-forward. If I thought a man could do better, if I thought he was slacking, I told him.</font="#6666FF">

An unabashed theft:

I totally...
ripped off this cool font/text idea from Jennifer Whiteaker

Another larceny:

- thank you-
Caroline Sympson