“I love working with students and watching them go from shell-shocked, anxious, timid kids to confident, knowledgeable, skilled young adults.”

Kathryn Worley remembers the prophetic words of her woodshop teacher, commenting on her chosen career path: “Forget medicine. You are going to be a woodshop teacher.” Two years into her college education, Worley decided to skip being a doctor in favor of entering the trades (she still earned her bachelor’s degree and, later, a master’s and educational specialist degrees). Before becoming a teacher, Worley found a job at a pool table manufacturer, starting on the assembly line and moving up to quality control.

In the classroom, Worley applied what she learned about creating good products. Students in her classroom design products, build furniture and manufacture machined parts, gaining skills in six types of design software and in trades like welding and computer numerical coding machining, With deep relationships to industry, Worley’s students make connections to employers like Taylor Guitars, LifeProof, the carpenters union and drone manufacturers. Her students compete in “Shark Tank”-inspired design competitions, judged by engineers, where they design, manufacture and market unique products to industry and community professionals.

Worley’s students appreciate her program—nine in ten who begin the program’s first semester continue through for all three years. More than 90 percent of students complete all assigned projects, and 85 percent believe Worley’s program teaches them workplace skills like responsibility and timeliness. One in three of her students enter the trades. A 31-year teaching veteran, Worley was a 2018 San Diego County Teacher of the Year and a finalist for California Teacher of the Year. She was a finalist for the 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“When students are in the classroom at 6:40 a.m. for a 7:15 a.m. class, something good is happening.”