Jim Hattan, who teaches High School Equivalency courses at The Fortune Society, wants students to know that education matters. “Some of the students here think that academia is for other people. But it’s for everybody,” he explains.
Along with colleagues Michael Logan and Brittany Smith, Jim helps Fortune students understand how education is achievable and applicable to their future goals. His teaching style—characterized by a strong sense of humor and a focus on topical, relevant lessons—aims to make literacy, science, social studies, and math courses engaging, accessible, and effective.
One example comes from his social studies class: a recent lesson on The Spanish-American War in 1898. As Jim explains, “the media in the United States, largely controlled by William Randolph Hearst, drummed it up that Spain had sabotaged [the USS Maine]. That was never proven. So, the United States went to war, in part on that premise. So, that parlayed into a lesson on the power of the media, and how much our opinions and thoughts are controlled by [social networks and the press]. It got students thinking.”
While Jim’s students are primarily seeking to pass the High School Equivalency exam, his classes are not solely a means to an end.
“[To start working,] there’s a certain number of skills that you have to attain. And being smart, looking smart, is a major thing,” Jim notes, “How you look smart is knowing that vocabulary word, knowing the capital, knowing longitude and latitude. It’s all relevant.”
“The classes [at Fortune] are difficult. You have to be there on time, and you have to sit in a room for two hours. But that’s life. And that’s part of being a working professional: being patient, being a good listener-the things that are most difficult to do,” he notes.
Individuals with incarceration histories who do not have a high school education are 10 percent more likely to be re-arrested, and face additional difficulties in obtaining steady employment. For many Fortune students, having a supportive space to overcome these obstacles is vital for successful reentry into the community.
Teaching within Fortune’s Education Program is not easy. A rolling enrollment schedule means that new students arrive every three weeks. Plus, there is a wide range of skill levels within each class, and pupils often face dire life struggles that may take precedence over coursework. But Jim finds that sharing knowledge, learning new ideas, and making a difference daily is extremely rewarding:
These connections are the most fulfilling part of his job. “I really enjoy the students,” Jim explains. And daily, that enjoyment transforms into positive impact: “[my work is] contributing to their lives and contributing to mine, as well.”
*Article by Carmen Rojas