By Cynthia Robertson
Local church organist and youth leader a San Diego County Teacher of the Year
As people enter the sanctuary of Del Cerro Baptist Church on Sunday mornings, the music has already started. Church member Kathy Worley is at the organ, playing the songs. Listening to the choir director, the other instrumentalists and to the people singing, she adjusts the music to their needs, never playing too loudly, nor drawing attention to herself. Yet she would be dearly missed if she were to suddenly stop playing.
The same goes for her teaching. As a teacher of industrial arts, with the current emphasis on career and technical education, Worley leads the way for young men and women. The West Hills High School teacher was announced as a San Diego County Teacher of the Year in October of this year.
Not only does she know her subject well, her students like and respect her. She does not take back-talk, nor does she accept laziness.
When Worley herself was a high school student, her wood shop teacher taught her to respect the other class members. Incidentally, a scheduling mistake put her into a wood shop class instead of the swimming class she had signed up for. But she loved wood shop — and her teacher, Mr. Lim, “was great,” she said.
“I was the first girl to take Advanced Woods. He expected from all the boys absolute respect — especially towards me and all women. If I had a large piece of wood to pick up, he made the boys in the class help me,” Worley said.
Mr. Lim would not allow any teasing in class, Worley remembers.
“The advanced class was full of students who loved being there, anyway,” she said. “They respected Mr. Lim and therefore showed respect to everyone. I actually met my first boyfriend in this class.”
Worley’s learned attitudes and beliefs towards work and studies well done carries over to the young girls she has mentored and led at Del Cerro Baptist Church as well. She has headed up the Girls in Action (GA’s) and Royal Ambassadors (RA’s), which are the youth versions of the Women’s Missionary Union.
“My mom has always been a supporter of missions. I went to Africa with the WMU to teach at the Ricks Institute,” she said.
Whether she is teaching wood shop, mentoring youth or playing the organ at Del Cerro Baptist Church, Worley values most of all the idea of being a servant.
“This includes being available to lead, help, push others to places they never thought they could go, and helping young students become disciplined young adults ready to tackle the next phase of their lives,” Worley said.
Worley has been a leader for youth in yet another way. She became the softball coach at Mount Miguel in 1988. Having grown up playing sports and at school, she had always played with the boys because they were more competitive.
“My father was a great coach of all my siblings and I guess I wanted to be like him,” she said.
“[The coaching job] was a dream come true because I had a career that gave me a chance to influence and help young people become wonderful young adults, while having fun,” Worley said.
The funny thing is, Worley had originally intended to be a doctor. But by the time she was taking organic chemistry, she knew she needed a different direction.
“I hated it, and the way it was taught. I was miserable,” she said.
Luckily, her parents encouraged her to pursue something she liked. At the same time, Worley was asked to help teach the second grade Sunday school at Del Cerro Baptist Church.
“I loved it,” Worley said.
The doors finally opened for a teaching job at a high school after she had given her notice at SDSU and ran into an old friend who told her about a coaching job at Mount Miguel High School. She was hired and coached at Mount Miguel in the spring of 1988. That summer, she was asked to interview for the wood shop job because that teacher had decided to retire.
Worley was hired as an Industrial Arts teacher at Mount Miguel, where she both taught and coached for 23 years. In 2010, she left that school and began teaching at Valhalla and West Hills. Though Worley no longer coaches, she will continue to teach industrial arts as long as she can.
“Since I work mostly with boys now, there are many that take my classes just to be able to work in the shops. It is their happy place,” Worley said.
Of all the teaching and coaching experiences Worley has had, it is the privilege of influencing individual students that will stay with her for life. In particular, she remembers a young lady named Diana, who lived with her father.
“Her father treated her like a servant and told her she was worthless. She had serious self-esteem issues when I met her,” Worley remembers.
But Diana learned to play softball so well under Worley’s guidance that by the time she graduated from high school, she had earned an out-of-state scholarship. Worley sent her a care package and wrote her encouraging emails.
“She sent me the most beautiful affirming note back. She told me that I was one of the first women that she looked up to, was consistent with her, and that I was a role model for her,” Worley said.
Going the extra mile for her students has nearly always been a regular part of Worley’s agenda. That includes going to career fairs and finding employers who will hire her students when they graduate.
She is also hoping to effect change at the state level to encourage more people with technical background in manufacturing to enter the teaching profession.
“I’m afraid when I decide to retire that there will be no one qualified to take over my classes,” Worley said.
Worley was a finalist in the California Teacher of the Year 2018. She will be honored with others at a gala to be held in Sacramento in February 2018.
— Cynthia Robertson is a San Diego-based freelance writer. Reach her at email@example.com.