Tutor Spotlight: Dean Knauss celebrates “A-Ha Moments” of adult learners

“It’s warm in the winter, cool in the summer, the coffee is free, and once in awhile, someone brings donuts,” joked long-time tutor Dean Knauss. Those things are true, but it’s actually the progress of the students that keeps him coming back. 

Echoing what many tutors tell us, he loves it when “a student gets it, when the lightbulb flashes, the A-Ha Moment.” Explaining that he wasn’t the best student himself, he knows there’s levels of curriculum at Seeds that he doesn’t feel comfortable tutoring and he isn’t shy about telling the students “You’re going to get to a point here where you’re smarter than me.” 

“That’s the goal. That’s why they’re here,” he continued. “I want to have even more of those moments. Bigger moments.” 

Those bigger moments include graduation ceremonies, which Dean finds particularly touching. Seeing the pride that the graduates have, the good feelings from the staff and other tutors, all makes for a really good event, he said. 

Over 20+ years working with adult learners at Seeds, he’s seen students with all kinds of challenges. “I don’t think there’s issues that our students haven’t experienced in one way or another.” Just like people talk to their hairdressers and bartenders, they talk to their tutors, too. “It’s touching, and sometimes I don’t know how they handle it all. But if they can make it here, I can too.” 

To the students who become frustrated along the way, he tells them they’re better off just coming to Seeds and learning something.


Dean sees literacy as a real need in the community, something with the power to break the cycle of poverty. Adults without a GED face a real handicap, he said. 

Admitting he doesn’t have much first-hand knowledge of how other literacy organizations operate, he just knows Seeds is something special. “It’s free, and very comprehensive. All-inclusive, lots of materials,” he said, noting that Seeds has grown and matured in the last 2+ decades.  

When Dean first started with Seeds, the program was spread through multiple locations in the city. “The Sisters of St. Joseph really got the ball rolling with Seeds of Literacy, and then it grew to the point where more educational and administrative professionals needed to be brought in. Locations are more consolidated now, and we have a higher quality and quantity of materials”

He also sees more formalized tutoring taking place. “There are more periodic assessments to determine if the student is making progress, where the weak spots are, where they need work. I’ve learned a lot helping other people learn,” and that includes algebra!

Seeds today “has the resources to do a good job, is centrally located, and accessible to public transportation. It’s really nice here. It keeps getting better.” 


Like other tutors, Dean believes he gets as much, if not more, out of tutoring than the students do. “When I first started at Seeds, I called it a birthday gift to myself,” he explained. Then 55, his work was flexible enough to allow for time to tutor. He said it felt like a good fit and was something he wanted to do. 

“Tutoring feels good. I have the time. I see positive results. And the rewards are great. I enjoy doing this.” 

Dean has always helped people in some capacity. In the army, he ran a satellite counseling office designed to be the first contact for people having problems – money, family, PTSD – similar to many of the struggles of students at Seeds. He also worked with people to help found a Lupus foundation in Ohio. 

“It took me a while to realize it, but I can’t solve every problem,” he said, adding that he’s going to keep working at it. 

  • Patience. Students work at their own pace and many don’t work well under pressure. 
  • Confidence. You have to be confident that you can help with the material, or learn it along with the student. 
  • Reliability. Life happens, and sometimes you can’t always be there. But if you tell a student “Ok, I’ll see you tomorrow,” it’s not great if you don’t show up. 
  • Willingness. If you have the desire to help people, this is a really great way to do it!

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