Being a Prison Teacher

Prison teachers provide education to inmates.
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Most educators work their magic in school buildings designed expressly for teaching. Some, however, function in settings not generally considered places of learning -- including prisons. Prison teachers conduct classes for youths or adults who are incarcerated, something that many leaders in the corrections field hope will reduce recidivism, or the return of prisoners to jail after release. This job offers an average salary of $46,589 for first-year teachers, which for some may be an enticement; however, the responsibilities of the job are serious and varied.

The Accidental Career

    Few people actively decide to become prison teachers, reports Randall Wright for "The Journal of Correctional Education." Kim Medders, a distance learning coordinator for a prison in California, echoes his claims. Many people who end up teaching those behind bars just happen upon the career. Though they did decide to become teachers and earn licenses, the classrooms they envisioned were full of bright-eyed students, not world-worn convicts.

General Responsibilities

    The responsibilities of a prison teacher vary based upon the type of education students in that prison receive and the age of the students. Some prisons do not require their teachers to create lessons, but instead use pre-packaged, computerized curriculums. In this case, the teacher acts as a facilitator, ensuring that students complete the assigned tasks. Others must create lessons for their students and deliver them directly. While they do have added classroom management challenges, they aren’t usually responsible for discipline but instead defer punishment to other employees.


    Prison teachers need largely the same credentials as those who teach in a more traditional setting. The Federal Bureau of Prisons requires applicants have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in teaching or a related field. The applicant must also have a teaching license or similar credential from the state where the prison is.


    Unlike teachers in public or private schools who enjoy the luxury of teaching a group of students with relatively similar life experiences and ability levels, prison teachers must be endlessly adaptable. They must employ an array of techniques to reach learners who come from varied -- and often troubled -- backgrounds.

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