Not many teachers can say they’ve spent more than a half-century educating and shaping young minds. At Hardin High School, two teachers share that distinction – Tom Catchings with 55 years and Kenneth Skidmore with 51 years.
Catchings, affectionately referred to by students and staff as “Tom Cat,” has worked for two school districts throughout his long career. A native of Liberty and 1963 graduate of Liberty High School, Catchings went on to earn his teaching certification from Sam Houston State University.
“At the high school level in Liberty, I had several coaches and teachers who were mentors to me. They had a good influence on my life,” Catchings said.
His first venture into teaching was for Anahuac ISD where he taught science and coached. After a 24-year stint, Catchings, along with his late wife, Sharon, were invited to apply for teaching jobs in Hardin by the then high school principal, Alan Tidwell.
“Alan and I had officiated games together and were with the Bay Area Chapter of Basketball Officials. Alan was the president and I was the secretary,” Catchings said.
After interviewing for the jobs, the couple decided to pray on it.
“We were looking at all our options and letting God guide us to Hardin,” he said.
For the last 31 years, Catchings has taught science to Hardin High School students. For many years, he also coached. For the last 26 years, he also has been a director of the summer tennis academy at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels.
Kenneth Skidmore’s path to teaching began at an early age. As the youngest of three sons, Skidmore followed a path set by his brothers, both of whom were teachers. His oldest brother, Gerald, was the dean of students at Alvin Community College.
After graduating high school in the small East Texas community of Grapeland, Skidmore attended Sam Houston State University where he majored in mathematics and minored in physical education.
His first teaching job was at Elkhart High School. A job offer at Hull-Daisetta ISD lured him to Southeast Texas.
“I was at Hull-Daisetta for eight years. I was an assistant coach for six years and head football coach for the last two of those six years, and I taught math. In 1979, we were fortunate enough to win a State championship during my second year as head football coach,” he said.
Teaching and coaching stints in Troup, Texas, and Hawkins, Texas, followed. In 1989, Skidmore was hired by Barbers Hill ISD to be the head football coach and athletic directors, positions he held for six years.
“I had some health problems a year later and had to have surgery,” he said.
Determined to keep coaching until his son graduated from high school, Skidmore battled through health problems for a few more years.
“When my son graduated, I wanted time to see him play in college. I couldn’t do that and still coach high school sports, because events are often at the same time, so I stepped down from coaching positions and continued teaching. Two years later, I missed it and went back to coaching,” he said.
His passion for sports has led to him being inducted into two halls of fame for coaching.
“I have been really fortunate to have had a lot of good players,” he said with an earnest modesty.
In 2011, Skidmore was hired by the late Bob Parker, the former superintendent for Hardin ISD. Skidmore has now finished his 10th year of teaching math at Hardin High School.
“This is the best faculty I’ve ever worked with. I am staying here until I retire,” he said.
For Skidmore and Catchings, retirement seems like a far-distant goal they hope to never reach. Both say they would be bored without students to teach.
“I don’t have any plans to retire. I don’t hunt, fish or play golf. Teaching is my hobby,” Skidmore said.
Echoing those sentiments, Catchings said, “What am I supposed to do if I retire? Watch the grass grow or wash my car some more? I like being around my students. I like to see how they grow and mature as as they learn.”
When asked if he realizes the impact his teaching career has made on students, Catchings briefly choked back his emotions.
“At times I think about it. I am just hoping the impact that was made was positive, one that sticks with them,” he said.