Tutor Spotlight: Connecting with Adult Learners Through Math

“People think you need to be a teacher or retired educator to tutor here, but you don’t,” Dolores Kirn says of the common misconception about volunteers at Seeds. Tutors just need to have patience, compassion, a desire to help, and at least a high school equivalent.

“I’m terrible at English,” Dolores confesses. “I tutor math. I was always good at it, even at a time when it was unusual for a girl.” Seeds volunteers tutor to their strengths, so if they aren’t comfortable with high level math, they can leave that to Dolores and instead work with students on English, Science, or Social Studies.

Although many tutors aren’t educators by trade, retired teachers are often drawn to the Seeds program. Dolores happens to be one of them. She taught students in the Mentor school district, at the Huntington Learning Center, and was a tutor at Brush High School – in math, of course.

It was pure happenstance that she ended up at Seeds of Literacy. “I was actually signed up to train with another program,” she admits. Several miscommunications and cancellations prevented it from happening and she grew frustrated. It was then that she saw an ad for Seeds in her church bulletin.

“I prefer Seeds’ one-to-one format to any other program out there. My students do, too,” she said. “Some of them have tried classroom programs. If the class is working on fractions, but they’re beyond fractions, they get frustrated because they aren’t learning anything new. That doesn’t happen at Seeds.”

She’s been with Seeds for more than seven years now – first at the West side, and then transferring to the East side when the Kinsman location opened.

Dolores knows that not every student comes to Seeds planning to take their high school equivalency. “I don’t judge their goals,” she says firmly. “I love to see the things students get excited about, when they draw connections between what they’re learning and real life.”

Recently, Dolores was working on percentages and the student had an epiphany. “When my grandkids tell me they got a 90% on classwork, I should be REALLY, REALLY proud of them. I didn’t know that before,” the student told her.

“I really enjoy connecting with people,” Dolores explains. She knows that she and her students might never understand each other’s worlds, but that they can come together with math.
The middle of the week is a busy time for Dolores. Tuesday mornings, she volunteers at the Cleveland Clinic before coming to Seeds in the afternoon. Wednesdays, she starts her day at Seeds and ends at the Cleveland Foodbank. Every other Saturday, she gives her time to a food and clothing bank run by various parishes in East Cleveland.

But volunteering at Seeds is different, Dolores explains. “I actually see the individual I’m helping. I develop a personal relationship with them. I get to know them as a person. They talk, I listen.”

To share your time and talent, contact Volunteer Coordinator Sharon Farrer at

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This article originally appeared in Seeds of Literacy’s Fall 2017 Newsletter.