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Volunteer Spotlight: Ken Vandermark, Retired VTC Professor, Remains a Committed Educator

 Ken Vandermark, of Randolph, with some of the students he has worked with as a volunteer teacher at an orphanage in Tanzania. When he is at home, the semi-retired Vermont Technical College professor teaches math to students age 16 and older through the offices of Central Vermont Adult Basic Education. Photograph courtesy of Ken Vandermark

Ken Vandermark, of Randolph, with some of the students he has worked with as a volunteer teacher at an orphanage in Tanzania. When he is at home, the semi-retired Vermont Technical College professor teaches math to students age 16 and older through the offices of Central Vermont Adult Basic Education. Photograph courtesy of Ken Vandermark

Randolph — For most of his professional career, Ken Vandermark has been a teacher.

Trained as an electrical engineer, he first turned to teaching at a community college and then moved on to Vermont Technical College in 1985. Now semi-retired from VTC, Vandermark can look back on a career in which he has won numerous awards and has been honored as professor emeritus at VTC.

But even at the tail end of his career, Vandermark remains committed to his role as an educator. He continues to work part time at VTC and also serves as a volunteer with Central Vermont Adult Basic Education, where he has provided math instruction for more than two years.

This winter, Vandermark is helping three boys, ages 16-18, work toward receiving their high school diplomas. The students meet with him at the Randolph Learning Center, where working with a classroom of three has opened Vandermark’s eyes to the challenges that public school teachers face every day.

“I don’t know how high school teachers do it,” he said. “If you get three kids, they are going to be at three different levels. I cannot just say, ‘This is our subject for today.’ Somebody is going to be bored and somebody’s not going to understand what I’m talking about.”

He makes adjustments in the classroom as needed, but Vandermark is less impressed with his own skills as an instructor and more impressed with the seriousness of his students.

“They really do want to learn. They know they dropped out. They know they are in trouble. They know they can’t get jobs. They’re intense. One kid’s cellphone rang two weeks ago. He answered it and said, ‘I can’t talk now. I’m in school.’  

Vandermark has also helped older individuals attain their education goals, like the father who earned his GED so his kids would know he had a high school education. Another man, who worked a full-time job, would stop by the center for tutoring at 4:30 p.m., and only then go home to his daughter.

A teacher at heart, Vandermark thrives on the satisfaction of seeing his students succeed. “When I came away yesterday, it was just a great feeling,” he said about a one-on-one tutoring session with a younger pupil.

“This kid had never heard of factoring before and by the end he was factoring polynomials and using Excel to check his work graphically. We did so much in just two hours.”

Editor’s Note: For additional information about Central Vermont Adult Basic Education, visit www.cvabe.org. Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-737-3221 or dtaylor@vnews.com.

Do you know an Upper Valley volunteer whose efforts deserve to be recognized in a Volunteer Spotlight story? Send suggestions by email to Volunteers@vnews.com, or by mail to Volunteer Spotlight, Valley News, P.O. Box 877, White River Junction, Vt. 05001. Be sure to include your name and a daytime telephone number. For more information, call 603-727-3221 during regular business hours.