For former 'jail teacher,' Plan B is Plan A

For Donielle Lawson, there is no Plan B. "It's my calling," she says of teaching.

The Great Recession technically ended three years ago, but during the 'recovery,' state and local governments -- including public schools -- have had to cut back. In fact, the White House says about 300,000 education-related jobs have disappeared in that time. Donielle Lawson is a single mom who was laid off from her job teaching special ed at a different sort of high school -- inside Chicago's Cook County Jail.


Donielle Lawson: We had violent offenders as well as drug cases, but it was a very interesting, unique population. Last year, I think we awarded close to 65 high school diplomas.

With my personality type, I’m a square peg. So I think alternative education has always been somewhat of my niche. Can’t teach much to my six children, but I just really discovered that I have a knack for hard-to-reach youth.

I think I’ve invested too much within Chicago public schools to look elsewhere. Maybe if I can get a contract in D.C. or Detroit -- some aspect of education I’ll be in. Mmm-hmm, it’s my calling.

I must admit that the students at the Cook County Jail high school taught me well. They knew how to be resourceful. That is the reason why I am able to "work the system."

I’m in the process right now of negotiating with my mortgage company in order to pay my mortgage. I’ve had to give up my truck. I bought an old car off Craigslist. The other day I had to go get a Link card. It’s like food stamps.

My children make comments, almost on a daily basis, about me being unemployed. Two of my children are actually embarrassed to get free lunch, so they’re insistent that I still pay for lunch. Or with my car, I have to park around the corner to pick them up. They don’t want anyone to see me in an old car now as opposed to my truck. So, those are the little things we’ll laugh at in a few years.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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