Lesson Learned: Graduate Students Teaching Women Serving Life Sentences

Document Type


Publication Date



30747382 (Orcid)

Find this in a Library

Catalog Record


In this presentation, we will discuss lessons learned when six doctoral level students in a clinical psychology program who were interested in careers in forensic psychology taught life span development to inmates serving life sentences. There is an increasing emphasis on service learning through academic-community partnerships. One such partnership that is being explored is an academic-prison partnership. Although rehabilitation is one goal of the correctional system, economic constraints often limit programming or educational opportunities especially for inmates serving long sentences. Still researchers have found educational opportunities can benefit inmates by increasing self-esteem and can lead to less disciplinary action. In planning for the class, we considered logistics which generally concerned two areas; teaching a class for the first time and teaching in prison. In the beginning of our semester, we focused on learning teaching techniques and tools. We did not have one text for the class; instead, each of us read a book about teaching in general or teaching psychology and then we shared the information. We accessed APA resources on teaching psychology including books, journals and internet resources. We made course decisions including start date and how to structure assignments and create the syllabus. Twelve inmates were allowed to enroll and to make textbook selection economical, an older version of the text was inexpensively purchased and every inmate received a copy. Since we are on a semester system, the prison course was offered for a ten-week "quarter." There were two instructors for each class, and one instructor must have taught the previous week to ensure continuity. A knowledge measure and a self-esteem measure were administered before and after the course to assess the course's impact on the inmates. We also had to navigate the prison system. This included how to provide visual aids without equipment such as black boards. Additionally, we considered our students and adapted our teaching styles. For example, some of the students have been incarcerated for several years making teaching examples about current technology or events ineffective. We also learned that teaching theoretical material can be challenging, and we must be creative to make the material engaging for us and the students. Finally, we kept in mind that not all of our students were at the same level academically, therefore we modified lesson plans so every student could understand and participate. In addition to the inmates learning from us, we learned from them including the value of teaching students who are willing to engage in lessons and share their experiences. And though the inmates discussed their meager living conditions, they found a way to enjoy simple pleasures including attending class. At the end of each class, we completed an assessment reflecting on our experience. We found that despite our initial anxieties, teaching became easier once we started. Moreover, once we began to teach, it was easy to forget circumstances under which we taught. We were not just working with inmates but teaching women who were eager to learn. This experience was a win-win for everyone. (PsycExtra Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)



Catalog Record