How Cathy Became an English Teacher in New York

Today, Cathy Shockey is one of the most beloved and inspiring English teachers at our school in New York. But that wasn’t always part of the plan. Find out what inspired a high-powered Wall Street executive to make the switch to the fascinating world of ESL.


A city of dreamers

Like millions of people pursuing the opportunities and excitement of the Big Apple, Cathy moved to New York with no apartment, no job, around $500 in her pocket and the passion to make it big in NYC.

New York in the 1970’s wasn’t as safe, and certainly not as trendy as we know it today, yet it was still tremendously appealing to a recent college graduate with a knack for business. But Cathy’s story is one of success. She got her MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business and spent years in Wall Street before moving on to American Express, where she was a Senior Director of Marketing.

New York English
8.5 million people live in NYC – many of which moved there for their careers


A life-changing moment

Cathy’s career – and her life – took an unexpected turn one late summer morning, when she had just arrived at work on the 39th floor of the American Express tower in downtown Manhattan. It started as a regular Tuesday. Cathy took her usual route from her Greenwich Village home to the heart of Wall Street, and was in the office by 8am when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. Cathy witnessed the September 11th attacks in the flesh.   

Though she left the building unharmed, as she walked along the river back home, she knew that like millions of others, 9/11 had changed her life.

“That experience made me realize there were other things that I wanted to do in life, that life is short. I decided I didn’t want any more to do with a full-time corporate job.”

She didn’t want to retire, and she wasn’t eager to leave New York City; she wanted to help others achieve the same level of success she had during her time on Wall Street. Months later, Cathy went back to school and obtained a TESOL certificate, credential to teach English as a Second Language, from Columbia University.

World Trade Center Memorial - learn English
Today, the One World Trade Center and the Memorial Wall stand in remembrance of 9/11

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A new calling

Soon after going back to school, Cathy found her place at Kaplan, where educational managers were working to develop a new course specifically designed for international students looking to excel in the business world: English for Business.

“As part of the program [at Columbia], we toured eight different adult language schools in New York City, including Kaplan. I decided to apply. Considering I had the MBA, lots of experience in business, they thought it was a good fit.”

And it was. She spent 14 years teaching Kaplan students in New York, and now exclusively teaches the English for Business and Intensive Business English courses.

“It is very important to me to see that she does exactly what she likes. That’s so great. I want to do that in my life. You can tell that she loves being a teacher.”

Guillermo Sobral,  Brazil

cathy teaching students English
Using the expertise she gained on Wall Street, Cathy prepares her students to enter the world of business in English


English Expertise

For Cathy, teaching English for Business is all about applying her strengths as a marketer and a team leader.

“A lot of skills in business are transferable to a good teacher. I think what I prepare for class, how my class runs, is based on my professional experience.  When I teach idioms, I always tell students ‘I don’t teach you anything that people in the business world don’t use or say.’”

Students in Kaplan’s English for Business class are inspired by Cathy’s story along with her brilliance as a teacher. They get the benefit of learning from someone who’s not only a great teacher, but a real-life expert from the business world. Combined with our small class sizes, this allows for an intimate learning experience where students really get to know Cathy and utilize her business expertise.

“I usually practice my English watching TV or talking with friends, but it’s different if you want to learn English for business. I want to learn this in a more formal way. Cathy shares her expertise and teaches passionately.” 

Serena Kim, South Korea

learn English classroom
Students benefit from Cathy's passion and life experience


For Cathy herself, who has visited former students in cities as far as Buenos Aires and Madrid, the career change has been a fulfilling experience.

“When students write me, ‘I got a job, I got a promotion,’ that to me is very rewarding. I really love teaching.”


Have you studied with Cathy in NYC? Or maybe you have another teacher you’d like to highlight from your own Kaplan experience. Share your stories with us in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.

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