Barb Cain retires from Vermont Adult Learning after 35 years


BRATTLEBORO -- Barb Cain is officially done at Vermont Adult Learning.

Now, all that's left is figuring out what to do with her stuff.

"It's trying to decide, after 35 years, what should I take? So I'm just trying to look and say, ‘Is this something they can use?'" she said last week while still in her office at 90 Birge St. "If not, I'm taking it with me because ultimately my goal, somewhere in the future, is to do private tutoring and stuff like that."

Cain said she started teaching for VAL, formerly known as Adult Basic Education, in 1978 and wrapped up her career as a math teacher at the end of June. She has spent the past two months sorting through three and a half decades of books and papers and advising her successor, co-worker Jay Callahan.

Math is a scary thing for some people. Many feel intimidated by all the numbers and struggle to understand how long division and multiplication tables apply to real life. But Cain said she has always focused on helping her students relate to the material with anything from stories about her childhood to humorous anecdotes.

"I feel like I'm a healer, particularly in math. People will come in and say they're coming in with fear. Not everybody, some people just come in for a quick review ... but a good share of our students come in not having the background. And you've got to build it," she said. "People have come in here in fear. They've come in here in anger, frustration, thinking they're going to feel more stupid than they're feeling already because this is something they're not good at. And before they go home that first day, my job is to see that there's a success. It doesn't matter what you're studying, there's got to be a success."

Cathryn Hayes, the VAL regional manager in Brattleboro, said she quickly became impressed with Cain's ability to connect with people.

"Even though I've only known Barb for a year, the staff and students that have worked with her have known her for many years and it's quite obvious that Barb is just a beloved member VAL as well as the Brattleboro community," Hayes said.

She explained VAL, a nonprofit associated with the Vermont Agency of Education, provides free educational lessons to people 16 years and older. She said VAL works closely with students on personalized learning plans and helps with college applications and career advice "to prepare them for a better future."

Born in Barton, Cain attended Lyndon State College "when it was just one building" to study education and graduated in 1968. She eventually heard about the job with Adult Basic Education (later VAL) and applied to it. The rest is history.

When she started out, Cain used to visit her students in their homes and eventually counseled countless people at her office.

"No two days would be the same," she said.

Cain, who lives in Springfield, told the Reformer she plans to soon relocate to Guilford with her husband. She has recently done some volunteer work and she looks forward to tutoring.

"I love teaching math," she said. "I will never not teach."

Domenic Poli can be reached at, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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