Armed with her belief in second chances, ABE-II instructor Alina Stanciu faces the many challenges of teaching incarcerated students. She recently took the time to answer a few questions about her first year teaching at San Quentin, and what brought her this far in her career.
SQNews: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Alina Stanciu: I don’t have a very specific answer. From the age when adults were asking “what do you want to do when you grow up?” and the expected answer was “doctor, lawyer, pilot” I blurted out “teacher.” In fifth grade my mother asked the same question, and without a doubt, or a second of consideration, my answer was “teacher.” I have never changed it, nor did I see myself doing anything else with the same joy. I have worked many different jobs in my life, especially after moving to the U.S. and not speaking the language, and for a few years I thought that my dream went down the drain. I have worked in house-cleaning, in marketing/advertising, but I wasn’t completely satisfied, even though I liked my jobs. Being a teacher was what truly spoke to my heart, so I mastered the language. I went back to school. I worked very-very hard. I gave all I had to learning (I graduated Summa cum Laude, plus a few other academic awards), and here I am now, teaching, in spite of all the obstacles.
SQN: Where did you earn your degree?
AS: I have earned my Associate Degree in Elementary Education from University of Phoenix, the Bachelors of Arts in Liberal Studies with focus on TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Masters in Curriculum and Instruction at University of the Pacific. I have earned my Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential while also attending the University of the Pacific.
SQN: Have you taught in public schools or in other parts of the world? If so, for how long?
AS: Yes, I taught fourth grade at first, and then sixth. I also worked as a teaching assistant at the University during my grad school. Prior to my arrival in the United States, I taught in Romania. I was teaching French at the school I attended first through eighth grade, and (I have to share this), I was coworker with my former teachers, which was a very strange experience. My own younger brother was my student, and that makes for another strange experience and funny stories.
SQN: Why teach in prison?
AS: Some of my acquaintances and family members, including the school psychologist at my previous school, suggested that I should also apply for a teaching position within CDCR, and so I did. This is how it all started.
SQN: How long have you taught inside prisons?
AS: I started two years ago at CMF Vacaville, where I worked until I was able to find an opening at SQ. I started at SQ Dec. 1, 2021.
SQN: What were your expectations about prison before you started inside? Were you scared, nervous, or excited?
AS: I was nervous. I was excited, but not truly scared. I took to heart “fear is the mind-killer” from Frank Herbert’s Dune. I knew I wanted to be a good teacher and help people bring the change that they wanted within themselves.
SQN: Have your perceptions of incarcerated students changed since you have worked at SQ?
AS: Yes! My perception about incarcerated people was general and vague, from what I saw in TV shows and documentaries, which did not place much focus on education inside the prisons. It was also not fully formed, but after teaching for a while, my perception is becoming more contoured.
SQN: Working as an ABE II teacher brings multiple challenges. How do you balance the task of teaching students who might be at different levels academically?
AS: I must admit that it is not an easy task. However, this is what I was prepared for, this is what I went to school for. Even in public school where students are much closer in age, they are at different stages of development, and different academic levels, with different experiences. With adults, this difference is much greater, as we are having generation gaps. Despite this, the adult students have a wealth of experiences, and experiences equal knowledge. One recent example of such experience is teaching rates, ratios, and proportions. The vocabulary might be intimidating, but once they realize that they have been using those concepts long before, the concepts are becoming easier to understand.
SQN: How important is it for you to educate the incarcerated?
AS: Working with the incarcerated population is very important for me. I believe that second chances are extremely important. Life has given me second chances too, and I think many people on this planet are grateful for second chances.