A career switcher becomes a mentor

Published 5:42 pm Saturday, April 4, 2015

By the time most folks are in their 50s, they’re trying to figure out how and when they’ll retire. With long careers behind them, most people are looking forward to a bit of rest and relaxation in their golden years.

Catherine Williams had other ideas.

After a 20-year career in purchasing and materials management at Tidewater Community College, Williams decided to enroll in the career-switcher program at Old Dominion University to become a teacher. In 2007, she took a teaching position at Lakeland High School, and this year she has been named Suffolk Public Schools Citywide Teacher of the Year.

Email newsletter signup

Williams had felt the calling to be a teacher early in life, but, she told staff writer Matthew Ward last week, as it does with many of us, life intervened, and she took a different path.

Only after she had beaten cancer for the fourth time did Williams stop and consider the question many people face in their later years: “What do you want to spend the second half of your life doing?”

Fortunately for her students at Lakeland, she made a choice to spend that second half of life pouring into them the lessons she has learned through long experience.

Williams said she is conscious of passing those lessons on to her students. “They think whatever they think they want to be at 15 or 16, that’s what they will be for the rest of their life,” she said. “I try to use it as a personal example.”

She has taught a variety of courses during her time in Suffolk schools. This year, she’s teaching introduction to marketing, marketing, and economics and personal finance. Each of those courses allows her to impart the knowledge she’s gained in personal experience to students eager to learn from an adult who has been there and can serve as teacher and mentor.

Congratulations to Catherine Williams. Suffolk is blessed to have such people teaching its students. And we are all blessed by the example that one can contribute so much in a second career.