Each year a character award named after W.A. Berry High School Coach Bob Finley is awarded for two graduating seniors and one Hoover City Schools employee, and talking to Millard “Buzz” Williams it quickly becomes apparent why he received the award this year. We talked with him this spring about why he chose to get into teaching after his first career with AT&T and the passion he has for building relationships with his students in the credit recovery program.

How did you get into teaching?

I was in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy assassination and start of Vietnam War. From there I went to what was then Bellsouth and worked as a lineman and worked my way into marketing. After 30 years with AT&T, I earned degrees from Birmingham Theological Seminary then from Samford University in education. I had noticed that there was an absence of patriotism in America in certain areas, and I realized a lot of young people coming out of schools didn’t realize the sacrifice made by the founders and in recent years. There seemed to be an absence of gratitude. So I thought, “I can sit back and complain about it or become part of the solution.” So that’s why I earned a master’s in secondary education focusing on social studies. I thought it would give me an opportunity make a difference in schools.

What does it mean to teach “credit recovery?”

When I graduated in 2016, Spain Park asked me to come in as an instruction support teacher teaching students in a credit recovery program, where they have a second opportunity to take a class online if they had struggled in it. I might have 14 to 15 students in a classroom taking a different class online. The management and oversight requires things that go beyond academics. Some students are homeless, and some have had difficult family circumstances. All teenagers need a support system. Without parental support, they come in tired and need support in the classroom.

How do you view your mission in the classroom?

My responsibility is to teach all of my students. Every one of them has worth even though their behavior might be less than preferred.  It’s a classroom full of different people, different faiths, some who are disparaged, some who have difficulty focusing. If you are managing a class like that, you have to cultivate relationships with them and be honest with them. I also share my personal testimony of my experiences growing up and my own difficult situations, and I think that helps them. After school I make it my business to visit them where they where they work.

How have you seen your students grow over the course of their time in your classroom?

I see change and maturity take place in them. They ask me questions that might not have anything to do with the subject they are working on, about budgeting and what they options are after school. I am also the sponsor for the Armed Forces Club. I try to help them understand what their options are so they can make an informed decision.

Tell us about your life outside of school.

I am married to a marvelous lady, Carol, and we have one son and five daughters, 15 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. I am the chaplain for the Helena Scout Troop 2 and have been for the last 12 years. I teach leadership straining to senior scouts, and talk about servant leadership and cultivate relationships.