"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Incarceration's Impact on Students

Dwight's story of how his incarceration negatively impacted Ebony resonated with my experience as a teacher. One of my best students (a white, female sophomore), came to class one day looking ill. I thought she might be sick, so I asked her if she was OK. I can best explain our interaction through dialogue.

Me: Are you OK?
Her: No, last night my mom got locked up.
Me: Oh, I'm sorry.
Her: It's not your fault.

I had no idea how to respond. The topic had never come up in any of the case studies in grad school, and I was clueless as to how many of my students were separated from a parent by the prison system. Also, I had no idea about this student's home-life. Did she have another parent or care-giver at home? Only her mom was listed on the information card I had students fill out at the beginning of the year and since she was well behaved, I (regrettably) had never called home. I spoke with her counselor who told me that her mother has been in and out of jail often and that she would probably be home once she posted bail. The next time I saw the student, she told me her mom was back. Fortunately, this student was resilient and the ordeal did not seem to impact her academic work, but it surely impacted her emotionally.  


  1. Resilience was the word I scribbled down as a generative word for the week because it was so apparent throughout the text and your experience is yet another example. Teaching allowed me to experience how resilient kids really are but what Murals as Text prompted me to consider was the resilient spirit in the fathers which I had (sadly) not truly considered until the reading.

  2. Seth - it is obvious you have a privileged relationship with this student, for her to share her "secret" with you. By the way, "Me: Are you OK?" Says it all. van Manen calls this the pedagogical look. I.e., its what we teachers do even when we are not even thinking we are doing anything. van Manen also calls this look "being tactful," because in these small small gestures we give back to (re-position) our students a sense wholeness or an in-tact-ness....

  3. I wouldn't have known what to say either, Seth. But it sounds like you have built a good relationship with your student, so she knows she can confide it you. Seeing that she is a good student while learning that she has such a turbulent home life speaks volumes about her character and determination. I hope you are able to continue to provide her support so she has another adult to turn to if she needs you. Maybe ask Stacie what else to say in case there's a next time. :)


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.