Joseph S.

Douglas County Department of Corrections

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I was in the middle of my last semester of college and was student-teaching in a 6th grade classroom. I soon realized that I was not prepared to teach this group of incredibly bright and talented students. I realized that teaching 6th grade students was not my vocational calling. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Shortly after graduating with a teaching degree, I explained to my wife that I was never going to teach. She said, “That is fine, but I expect you to work full-time.” I said, “No problem.” For the next ten years I worked at numerous different jobs but wasn’t really satisfied or fulfilled with any of them.

I did not reenter the teaching profession until 2005 when my wife noticed an ad in the local newspaper for an Adult Education Teacher at the local community college. The primary function of this position was to prepare adults to take and pass the GED tests. She knew that my heart was still in teaching; if I could only get into the right environment. I already knew exactly what not to do as a teacher from my student-teaching experience. Plus, I was a little wiser and more mature. I figured I had nothing to lose.

Despite some concerns about reentering the teaching profession, I knew it was meant to be. Over the next several years, I poured my heart and soul into becoming the best Adult Education Instructor I could possibly be. All I ever wanted to do was help individuals who wanted to be given a chance and to earn their GED. I continued working at the college for three years, and then I accepted a transfer to the Douglas County Department of Corrections facility in Omaha.

After approximately six months of demonstrating my skills and abilities, I was hired by the Department of Corrections as a full-time instructor. I found a great deal of satisfaction teaching students at the community college however, I have enjoyed teaching individuals who are incarcerated even more. I have learned that empathy is a key characteristic of professionals in this field. These individuals are not so different from you and me; however, they have made some poor decisions and choices in their lives. Friends sometimes ask me if I am ever concerned for my safety. I’ve never been concerned or worried for my safety; not even once.

I have found that my students truly enjoy learning and appreciate the opportunity to do so. Many of them have commented that they don’t feel like they are incarcerated when they are in my classroom. I believe that’s exactly how they should feel. Learning should be fun! I’ve learned that if you treat others with decency and respect, they will, in turn, treat you in the same manner. My students understand and appreciate that I am there to help them better themselves. I learn from them as much as they do from me. I am also very fortunate to have co-workers who share my beliefs and values in terms of providing individuals with the necessary tools to grow and improve their lives.

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