Prison Teaching Initiative

For more than a decade Princeton’s Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI) has been offering accredited college courses to passionate, insightful, incarcerated students, many of whom have earned their Associate of Arts degree, and some of whom have since gone on to Bachelors and graduate work. Graduate students from the English Department have been vital members of PTI, teaching courses on composition, women’s and gender studies, translation and poetry, and world literatures. A close-knit group of dedicated volunteers, PTI instructors work in teams of two to four to design and teach courses in collaboration. Teams hash out syllabi, design assignments, and even grade together. They also have long discussions about the pedagogical strategies that seem most responsive to a particular student’s needs and interests. Teaching and learning in a prison, they explain, have the same challenges and joys one finds in any classroom, though students and instructors must find ways to deal with the prison’s unique constraints. Students usually can’t access professors, well-stocked libraries, or computers, let alone Google or academic databases. So they pool background knowledge when they can meet outside class, and they rely on teachers to provide secondary materials and field contextual questions as they come up in discussion. This year the English Department has created two graduate teaching Fellowships for the design and implementation of new PTI poetry courses and programming, which include readings of student work and guest lectures by Princeton faculty.