Overcoming challenging situations, being resilient in a dynamic learning environment, and transforming lives - the role of a prison tutor isn’t for everyone, but it does offer an incredibly rewarding career and is a crucial role in the prevention of re-offending.
As a specialist area of teaching, being a prison tutor requires over 100 hours of teaching experience and a recognised teaching qualification (or for applicants to be working towards one), as well as gaining prison security clearance. It offers a fulfilling career for those willing to undertake a physically and emotionally demanding job.
Starting the day
A typical day can start at 8am for a prison tutor, with a varied, busy schedule ahead of them. The first step is to go through the standard prison security checks to verify tutors are not carrying contraband items.
The first challenge is engaging with learners who may have limited or negative experiences of education. Lessons are held in classrooms for academic subjects, with custom assembled workshops for vocational courses, and are usually three hours in duration. Prison tutors can specialise in subjects from IT to maths to painting and decorating, and including a creative approach to session delivery is essential in engaging a diverse group of learners.
Anyone working in the role must be flexible. With lesson time often being disrupted, prisoners arriving late to lessons -or even not at all if there has been a lockdown - tutors must be able to adapt quickly, using the limited time to assist prisoners in reaching their learning objectives.
Most residents do want to be in the classroom. They wish to learn how to think critically, express themselves and better their future. This makes prison education a truly motivating experience, with rarely a dull moment.
You can always find great comradery among staff in prisons, as the experience is unique. At lunchtime, all workers will head to the staff room and prison tutors often find themselves part of a close-knit team. Few other places have such supportive colleagues who truly have each other’s backs.
The afternoon may include more classes or one-to-one tuition, finding out the skills and training needs of each prisoner. This could include helping prisoners working towards qualifications and may be supported by external organisations.
Being a prison tutor also means being held to a high standard and responsibility. Security and control must be maintained at all times, as there is not a security officer within the classroom when teaching. Prison tutors are resilient in maintaining control of their classes and hold the incredible ability to remain calm in a stressful and challenging environment. However, safety is assured, with access to a security button and an officer stationed close by in the corridor outside the classroom, although they are rarely needed.
At the end of the afternoon, it’s time to plan the next session, prepare teaching materials and update prisoners’ individualised learner records. Lesson material must be pre-agreed and checked ahead of the next day’s teaching.
Finishing as late as 6pm, it can feel like a long working day. However, the benefit of prison education means work isn’t taken home. With classes finishing promptly, materials needing to be counted and the rooms locked up, work-life balance is easily maintained without needing to work late.
The fundamental purpose of tutoring in prison establishments is the same as teaching in schools, but it offers unique challenges. Prison tutoring leads to potentially life-changing outcomes; by giving prisoners the skills and knowledge to find work after their release. Prison educators are talented, resilient individuals, making a real difference to the lives of prisoners in their care.
If you are looking for a career as a prison tutor, or looking to recruit for a vacancy you have, contact your local Reed Further Education branch.