Tutor Profile: The Teacher Who Never Really Retired
Most people dream about retirement, especially those who worked 12-plus-hour-days regularly. But when you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. For those people, retirement isn’t just bittersweet, it’s downright daunting.
For 42 years, Seeds tutor Sharon Vejdovec worked in elementary schools as a teacher and then a principal. More often than not, the children that passed through her classroom came from homes with hardships, and she was sensitive to their circumstances. Sharon can be stern, but the children responded to her tough love approach. “They needed to know someone cared,” she said.
It took a long hospitalization with a case of rare Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) to keep Sharon away from “her kids”. Her family hoped she would take the illness, which included temporary paralysis, as a sign to slow down and retire. She refused. She wanted to return to the students who sent all of the artwork and notes that adorned her hospital room wall for so many months.
Her excitement to return was short-lived. Parochial schools were consolidating and with enrollment down, funding was limited. It wasn’t long before her school closed too, and retirement finally caught up with her. Her husband Bob also worked at the school, so the couple retired together – whether they were ready or not.
Bored By Retirement
Unwilling to sit home all day, the Vejdovecs joined Silver Sneakers. The physical activity was great, but it wasn’t enough to fill the day.
“Bob and I had been looking for volunteer work and had gone to investigate other options, but none seemed like a good fit,” she said. “They gave off very impersonal vibes.”
A year earlier, her niece accepted a position as the first communications director at Seeds of Literacy and told her of the need for tutors. There are some significant differences between adult learners and children though, and Sharon and Bob weren’t yet convinced.
Finally, enticed by the promise of seeing their niece every day that they came to tutor, the couple agreed to give Seeds a try. “My niece is a VERY persuasive spokesperson,” she laughed.
“Tutor training was very thorough. The session gave lots of information about the history and mission of Seeds, the curriculum, and how tutoring sessions are handled,” Sharon said. “Bob and I met some students, staff members, current tutors, and had a nice lunch. But most importantly, we were made aware of the statistics about local and county literacy rates and the ripple effect it has on the community.”
They were impressed by the operation… But still, they made no promises about how frequently they’d tutor.
“Looking back, it’s almost comical,” said Communications Director Katie Kucera (their niece). “It’s like they knew right away that they’d love it, but they didn’t want to admit it. I think they got a kick out of making me beg.”
Soon, the Vejdovecs were staying between classes. (“Some students come late and they still need to be tutored!”)
Then they started tutoring every day. (“If I’m there, maybe my student will come more often.”)
It wasn’t long before they were tutoring 8+ hours a day, 4 days a week. (“We’ve got the time. Why not?“)
As regular fixtures at Seeds East, they were in the classroom more than some staff members! Even soft-spoken Bob, who originally intended to leave the tutoring to Sharon, found his accounting background helped students with math.
The Vejdovecs don’t keep track of their tutoring hours, but Seeds does.
In just under 4 years, Sharon has accumulated the most lifetime tutoring hours of any active volunteer – more than 2,166 hours! Bob, who only tutors when the physical classrooms are open, has an impressive 1,317 hours. (Hours as of 1/18/2022)
They were surprised to hear this and are reluctant to be recognized for this accomplishment. Having the most hours was not something she and Bob expected or intended to do. They were simply used to working long days at a school before retiring.
Two long-time tutors are neck-and-neck for second and third place for hours. “They’ve been with Seeds for so long, they deserve the recognition more than we do,” Sharon said.
(She need not worry though. As Seeds enters its 25th Anniversary year beginning July 1, you’ll hear more about both of those tutors and their deep-rooted commitment to the organization!)
Like all of the tutors at Seeds, Sharon is amazed by how much the adult learners have to overcome to accomplish their goals: caring for family members and children; one or more difficult, poorly paying jobs; transportation issues; lack of support from friends and family.
“Plus, many of the students did not have good school experiences [growing up],” Sharon said. “So coming to Seeds is A Big Deal.”
Sharon knows that sometimes students need to be shown more than one way to work a math problem. She recognizes when they lack the foundational knowledge to answer a reading comprehension question. She’s patient and looks for different ways to present the material to help them understand. The moment when it clicks is exciting for both student and tutor. “Finding ways to celebrate small successes is important,” she said.
In fact, that’s one of the things Sharon appreciates about Seeds. “The tutors and the excellent staff become cheerleaders for the students,” she explained. “The students see that someone cares about them. People at Seeds are really interested in their lives and success!”
Missing Her Regulars
Pre-pandemic, Sharon had a regular table and regular students at Seeds East. When it became clear COVID was sticking around, she reluctantly transitioned to telephone tutoring, and finally video tutoring in the Virtual Classroom hoping to lure some of her in-person regulars to continue their studies online. (They haven’t yet, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to convince them!)
“It’s somewhat more difficult, but not impossible, to tutor digitally,” she admits. She had pretty good computer skills, but needed to learn some of the digital whiteboard and screen sharing techniques. (Seeds offers free professional development to help Virtual tutors become acclimated with the online space.)
In the Virtual Classroom, she has a few new regulars, including the the gentleman in Maryland profiled last year. “I have also worked with many students just once or twice depending on the need for tutors. I like both situations, I almost always have fun while I”m tutoring,” she said.
Despite enjoying the work she does with the Virtual students, she misses her familiar group at Seeds East.
Even though tutors and students must be fully vaccinated to return to the classrooms, Sharon will remain a Virtual tutor for the time being because of her health history — But she hopes to get back into the classroom with Bob in the future.
(pictured below: Sharon and Bob Vejdovec in the Reading Nook at Seeds East. Student Rose was a Seeds East Regular prior to the pandemic.)
# # #KLG
You do not need to be a career educator (or be related to a staff member) like Sharon to join the Seeds Family as a tutor. Seeds provides the initial training and ongoing workshops to help tutors succeed. “If you have it in your heart to help others learn, go for it!” Sharon said.