Valdosta State University
After spending 27 years in the corporate world, Walter C. Vredeveld decided to switch things up and enter the world of education. He graduated from Valdosta State University on July 27 with a Master of Arts in Teaching in special education-general curriculum.
Where Vredeveld, who prefers to be called “Walt,” once spent his days working in distribution and customer service management with the Westinghouse Electric Corporation -- four years in Pittsburgh, Pa., and 11 years in Baltimore, Md. -- and with Rayonier in Jesup, he now spends his days educating the boys and girls in the Wayne County School System.
“Toward the end of … [my first] career, I began to question this line of work and my legacy,” he said. “I realized that I was not enjoying the work, not finding it fulfilling, and did not see lasting benefits to myself nor my community. In the process of raising my three children and in searching for an answer to the above concerns, I became very involved in youth and community activities. I became passionate about these activities and began to develop a plan to transition from the corporate world to a second career in youth and/or community endeavors. The plan was accelerated when my position with Rayonier was eliminated in 2008. Having moved to Jesup in 1997, my spouse, Martha, and I valued our place in the community and did not want to move for my employment. Therefore, we initiated the second career plan. Both of my parents are retired educators, and my brother has been a high school history teacher for 25-plus years, so I have finally joined the ‘family business.’”
Vredeveld’s transition into education began in the fall of 2008 when he accepted a position as a substitute teacher at both Martha Puckett Middle School and Arthur Williams Middle School in Jesup. In November of 2010, the 55-year-old husband and father of three was hired as a full-time special education inclusion teacher at Wayne County High School. He entered VSU in January of 2011, taking classes online via the Georgia ONmyLINE initiative. He said his goals were “to learn to better perform my job, to help my students excel, and to obtain that coveted renewable certificate.”
Because he already held Bachelor of Arts and Master of Business Administration degrees from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Vredeveld had the option of obtaining teacher certification by completing a supervised practicum. After talking to two recent graduates of the James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, however, he decided to further his education.
“They spoke highly of the program, and the total online nature really appealed to me,” he said. “Having to drive several nights per week to a distant educational center -- and the expenditure of gas money -- is not how I wanted to spend my evenings. I also decided that that quality of preparation for a special education teaching career would be much better working through an organized master’s degree program than with a more informal practicum.”
Vredeveld finished the requirements for the degree in five semesters. He took two classes during the fall and spring semesters when teaching and three classes during the summer semesters.
“The knowledge that I gained was invaluable in preparing me for the requirements of my teaching position, and by serendipity, I seemed to be enrolled in classes that just fit the needs that I had in my job,” he shared.
Vredeveld figures he has at least a dozen or so working years left to leave a mark on the youth of Wayne County.
“I enjoy working with the students,” he said. “I try to instill humor, motivation, and a positive attitude into my teaching. Sometimes the humor totally misses -- they really don’t understand punch lines from 1970s movies -- but I keep trying.”
Born in Lansing, Mich., Vredeveld moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., at the age of 7, and he still considers Chattanooga his hometown. He and his wife of three-plus decades have three children -- Brenna, 28, an environmental consultant in San Diego County, Calif.; Rebecca, 26, a recent graduate of the Master of Management in Hospitality program at Cornell University in New York who now works in restaurant management in Washington, D.C.; and Michael, 22, a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He serves as head coach for the Wayne County Parks and Recreation Department Piranhas swim team, and his wife assists. The couple participated in swimming as athletes in high school, in college, and with USA Masters Swimming.