When he retired in 2016, former Burnsville Police Sergeant Dan Carlson traded in his holster for pencils and got a whole new blue uniform.
This uniform, however, has an AmeriCorps patch instead of a shiny gold badge.
In his second year as a Minnesota Math Corps tutor at Motley Elementary School in Motley, Minn., the 58-year-old says that his 30 years of police work did not necessarily prepare him to help fourth and fifth graders with math proficiency.
“I’m not a ‘math person’ by any means, so for me to understand the curriculum, pull out concepts and present it to them is great. I could do basic math, of course, and in my crime scene work, there was a lot of math involved in that – geometry and so forth – but I was not necessarily as confident about being a math tutor,” he said.
But Math Corps had a greater need for AmeriCorps members, including one in a school near his home, so he decided to give it a try.
“The (lessons are) laid out so well that it has really become quite easy,” he said. “As long as you follow the process, it definitely does work because my kids are already doing much better than they were doing in the first month of school.”
The Journey from Police Officer to AmeriCorps Member
Carlson started his work as a police officer in 1980, spending the last 25 years of work on the Burnsville Police Department, where he said he did “a little bit of everything,” from crime scene investigation to S.W.A.T. to internal affairs and emergency management. He first retired in 2007, which “lasted about two months,” and then went back to work in consulting as a certified emergency manager for the state of Minnesota. He “retired again” in 2016 and moved with his wife to the small Central Minnesota town of Motley.
Carlson said he still wished to serve in some way and gravitated to helping students, so he first signed up to be a substitute teacher. He realized that AmeriCorps service was a better fit for him after learning more about it from his adult daughter, Brianna Mieklke, who is a Reading Corps tutor in Zimmerman, Minn.
“Substitute teaching is a little tougher because you are putting in the time using a lesson plan that the classroom teacher developed and it’s only temporary,” Carlson said. “With Math Corps, you really can dig into the curriculum that’s been developed for us. You can work at a pace that’s right for the kids, and you can see the kids’ growth over time. That has been rewarding.”
“This is about giving back to the community and doing service,” he said. “I’ve always been kind of a public servant anyway.”
Plus, Carlson liked the idea of part-time service so that he could have time for other projects in his spare time. At 22 hours a week, his Math Corps service fits the bill perfectly, he said.
Math Corps Tutors Don’t Have to Be ‘Math People’
Carlson encourages anyone who has the time and inclination to do meaningful service in their community to consider AmeriCorps and especially, Math Corps. He said he realizes a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of helping with math skills – but if they are joining Math Corps, they really should not be.
“Because the curriculum is laid out for you, you don’t have to come in with a heavy math background. They’ll tell you and teach you what you need to know before you start,” he said. “And the kids just need some help to get up to grade level. The process really does work.”
Although he raised two daughters (Brianna, 34, and Brittney, 32), he admitted it had been many years since he spent time with 9 to 11-year-old kids, but he truly appreciates watching them learn and grow.
“You know, the kids can be full of emotion at times, but generally, they are ready to work when I have them,” he said. “They work hard, they give me an effort – which is all I ask of them – and they’re doing well.”
Good for the Soul
It’s a nice change in “clientele” from his work on the police force, too, he said, where “you are the bad guy to a lot of people a lot of the time.”
“In being a tutor for Math Corps, there’s just so much more positivity and positive interaction in contrast to some of the negativity that can come with doing police work –and the sadness that can come with police work, generally speaking,” Carlson said. “This is, by and large, more positive, and just better for the soul.”
— Shayla Thiel Stern
Considering being a tutor for Minnesota Math Corps? Learn more about how to apply here.