Kristine Pytash | Kent State University

Kristine Pytash

HOW TROUBLED STUDENTS TEACH TEACHERS

When children enter the justice system they are removed from the classrooms, but state laws say that doesn’t excuse them from their studies.

That’s where researchers like Kristine Pytash come in.

“I’m interested in making sure that we provide a robust education, so that when they have the opportunity to return to the classroom, they are well prepared,” she said.

Pytash is an assistant professor in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies at Kent State’s College of Education, Health, and Human Services, where she co-directs the secondary Integrated Language Arts teacher preparation program

Through that program, Pytash conducts research at detention centers in Summit County. In addition to facilitating writing workshops for young adults, Pytash and KSU preservice teachers lead classes on writing and literature to incarcerated and detained students in grades 7-12.

In this way, she trains teachers for the classroom, including lessons in developing engaging instruction. She also takes the opportunity to help students who find themselves in trouble, observing the effects of writing and literature to help youth grow socially and emotionally.

“If we ignore the quality of education they receive while they are in detention, we continue to perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline,” Pytash said. Dr. Kristine Pytash, Assistant Prof. School of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Studies

Pytash says students aren’t entirely to blame. She said schools’ zero-tolerance policies that lead to suspension and expulsion are often driven largely by a lack of confidence among teachers to handle problems in the classroom.

The program, Pytash says, improves teachers’ efficacy and confidence, while exercises in writing help youth develop their writing abilities as well as valuable skills like empathy and understanding multiple perspectives.

For most of her teachers, Pytash says, the experience is beneficial personally and professionally.

“Their perceptions of youth change,” she said. “They find that young adults at the detention centers want to learn; they’re excited to be learning.”

Pytash said these kinds of experiences mean teachers who graduate from Kent State will be better equipped to help stop the cycle of “school-to-prison.” She also stated that her approach shows promise outside the walls of jail and she is beginning to design another program for students on probation.

“I think it’s very important for teachers who graduate Kent State to not only be well qualified academically, so they’re ready to teach, but also that they be ready to deal with the different behaviors and the diversity of challenges they’ll face,” she said.


For more information on Kent State Research, contact Dan Pompili, at 330-672-0731 or dpompili@kent.edu