A 25-year veteran of Target, Chuck Manther built a career on problem solving, working his way up from being an assistant store manager to managing teams from Target corporate headquarters. When he retired in 2015, he looked forward to leaving behind the stress of a corporate environment, but after four years, he said he started to “yearn for a way to make an impact.” That is when he decided to join AmeriCorps as a Minnesota Math Corps member who tutors fourth and fifth graders at Cherry Hill Elementary in Lakeville. Manther, who is in his early 60s, just completed a five-month term and will return in the fall for the next school year. We talked to Chuck about his decision to serve and experience as a tutor.
How did you learn about Minnesota Math Corps?
I learned they had a need for a Math Corps tutor at Cherry View Elementary in Lakeville, and both my sons had gone to Cherry View many, many years ago when it first opened, and it’s where my wife previously served in Reading Corps and now is a paraprofessional. My wife said I’d love it, and she was right.
What is your service like as a Math Corps tutor?
I tutor 24 students a week – 12 fourth graders, and 12 fifth graders. I meet with them each for 90 minutes a week in what are usually three 30-minute sessions where they are paired up two at a time.
The approach is good, and we’re now trying a new and possibly better approach with three students at a time and 45-minute sessions, which I think I prefer for the fifth graders, and it feels like we’re getting more done.
How do you feel about that age group?
They are great. The fourth graders are just hilarious. They just want to learn, and they don’t know much about the world, so when you’re tutoring them, you have that rare opportunity to have one-on-two or one-on-three take the lesson and apply it to their little world in a way that makes them understand what we’re trying to do. If you’re teaching 35 kids with all these different perspectives, that is much harder to do.
What was it like switching from being a corporate environment to a school environment?
It was a culture shock. The corporate environment can be very intense, very competitive. Everybody’s trying to move up the ladder. In the educational environment, it’s more about patience and kindness, and trying to empathize with the person you’re working with, trying to understand their situation and help them to get through it. You are more of an advocate for them, which is not usually something you do in the corporate world. Sometimes, they really want to talk to you, and I’m not a counselor but I am a good listener. It took me a good month to get used to the “Let’s help each other.” The teamwork was there at Target, no doubt about it, but this is different. It’s trying to develop trust with the students and getting them to want to come to Math Corps.
All Math Corps tutors earn a college education credit through AmeriCorps. How will you use yours?
I have sons with student loans to pay off so I’m going to transfer my education award to them to help them do that. It’s a great reason to join Math Corps. One of the other tutors I know is paying for a big chunk of his granddaughter’s education.
If you were giving advice to someone in retirement who was considering Math Corps service, what would you tell then?
It’s worth it. There’s training, thank goodness, to help you prepare. It’s worth the effort to go through the training, and in the end when the kids say we are really going to miss you and that we really appreciate all that you’ve done for us, I can’t even describe all the rewards. You get to make a connection with these kids and help them succeed when they are struggling.
Now, when I go to the classroom to get my students, other students ask, “Can we come with you for Math Corps, too?” When that started happening, it was the neatest thing because they could see how the Math Corps students were improving and succeeding and they wanted that, too. It was a great feeling to realize I’d become a mentor and a partner for my Math Corps students.
Why was Math Corps service the right opportunity for you?
My whole career at Target basically had been 50 percent math, and 50 percent people development, so this really made sense for me. It’s a great chance to make a positive impact on young lives, and this was a great opportunity to just jump in and get at it. I thought, ‘Why not do this?’ Reading and Math Corps is a great organization. This was the perfect time and perfect place.
Do you have to be a ‘math person’ to be a tutor in Math Corps?
Not at all. You just need to want to help and make an impact on young people. You know, when I was in school I was not a math person at all. I hated it and struggled.
In college, when I had to take Calculus, I was failing, and I was always an A student before that, and it wasn’t that I wasn’t trying. I went to talk to my adviser, and he recommended that I just switch to a different section with a professor who taught it differently. On the first day, I walked in with my book and he told me I wouldn’t need to bring it anymore — we wouldn’t be using it. He really taught the course his own way, and everything started to click for me. After that, I started to understand the big picture of math – not just Calculus but everything. I changed my major to business administration after that.
One professor really turned it all around for me, and I thought maybe I can be the person who does this for some of these kids.
Do you want to sign up for part-time or full-time service in Minnesota Math Corps or Reading Corps? Visit https://www.readingandmath.net/ to view open positions and apply.
Editor’s Note: An abbreviated version of this interview appeared on the Target corporate employees website.