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'Kids are slowest in math and reading. These days classrooms are too big, and kids can’t count any more. If you have math skills, you can do a lot.'
~ GM retiree
who tutors elementary school students
Two times two is always four, but if you’re lucky enough to be one of math tutor Clem Wittman’s students, it could mean even more.
Fruit and nuts, for example.
“Unlike modern math teaching – with carrying the one and all that – I use the old-fashioned method: peanuts, oranges and apples,” said the UAW Local 93 retiree, who has tutored students from a Kansas City, Mo.-area elementary school for about eight years now.
“For example, if it’s 15 apples minus 12 apples and the student answers correctly, they get to keep what’s left. They learn so much more because it’s visual and helps them understand what you’re talking about,” added Wittman, 69, who retired from General Motors’ Kansas City plant in 1988.
It took Wittman, who lives in nearby Raytown with his wife, Shirley, six years to earn his mathematics degree from the University of Missouri’s Warrensburg campus. But because of health issues and high GM seniority, he never taught school professionally.
That didn’t stop him from pursuing it after retirement. Now he tutors one student each school year, starting in September and ending in May.
“The parents pick the tutor,” said Wittman, a father of two and grandfather of three. “It’s not fun and games. It’s work.”
“Kids are slowest in math and reading. These days classrooms are too big, and kids can’t count any more. If you have math skills, you can do a lot,” he added. “But if you’re a child who’s somewhat slow, you’re left out. With a little help, you can do better learning your multiplication tables, division and fractions.”
One success story is about a fifth-grader who had difficulty learning multiplication tables. With Wittman’s guidance, she went from an F to an A.
But then she moved out of state, attended a new school and regressed. So Wittman tutored her by phone, and her grade went up to a B.
For Wittman, the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His daughter and son have both taught math.
When he’s not tutoring students, chairing a retiree meeting, handling CAP Council recording secretary duties or golfing, he’s at Trinity Episcopal Church one Saturday a month peeling hundreds of potatoes and carrots, and straining 1,000 eggs to help feed 500 homeless people lunch. But he avoids cleaning any of the 200 chickens.
“My wife’s the cook,” he said. “I’m just the helper.”