Faculty Profile: Katherine O’Malley

Sophie Cheng ’24 and Charles Potter ’25 in News | February 17, 2023

20 years ago, Lawrenceville welcomed Katherine  O’Malley H’07 onto its campus, and she has made an impact on hundreds of students since. O’Malley teaches II Form English, multiple V Form English electives, and IV Form Advanced Poetry, as well as serving as the head coach of the Girls’ Varsity Volleyball team and the Crescent Level Director. Whennot teaching or coaching, she enjoys cooking and traveling. In fact, O’Malley has been to over 100 countries! When asked her favorite country, she said that she would choose “Italy for food, South Africa for adventure, and New Zealand for beauty.”
O’Malley said she “did not like high school and was not a good student.” She attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, where she earned a degree in degree, then earned a master’s degree in comparative literature at Columbia University. After graduating from Columbia, O’Malley was “ill-equipped to do much of anything to earn a living,” so she “took a job advertised as ‘teaching girls in residence’”—one which actually turned out to be teaching women in a prison. There, she discovered that she “liked working with kids,. However she wanted to have the chance to teach students who shared her love of literature, so she looked at boarding schools instead.
Before coming to Lawrenceville, O’Malley worked at the Cate School in southern California. She said she left the school in 2004 because she was “the only single member of the faculty” and “hadn’t had a date in years.”
At Lawrenceville, O’Malley has found that her favorite class to teach is her V Form
Shakespeare elective in the Fall Term, even though she also loves teaching II Formers. In “​​Shakespeare's Comedies: Masks We Wear,” she generally ends “up with a really bright and motivated group of seniors.” Specifically, The Merchant of Venice is the unit she enjoys teaching the most, noting that the language is beautiful, as well as the pertinent and thought-provoking question of whether “Shylock is written as a tragic hero or a comic villain.”
The teaching job itself gives O’Malley the opportunity to spend her days with “people who are always looking for enjoyment and humor in their work, exercise, and play.” She described her love for laughing when teaching students, and how active both coaching and teaching can be. On the contrary, she pointed out that her least favorite part of the job are weekends, as they are full of grading essays and writing comments— unfortunately cutting into her reading and travel time.
Ironically, O’Malley never played volleyball before becoming the assistant head volleyball coach at Cate, as she went to a high school that did not value with a physical fitness highly, and the only extramural sport at her college was croquet. Additionally, in college, she only ever competed against a neighboring school, the United States Naval Academy, once each year. Upon her arrival at Cate, however, she was asked to assist the head volleyball coach. O’Malley detailed the head coach as “a woman who was 6'3" who spent the last three years playing professional volleyball in Europe.” After being taught by the head coach, O’Malley was able to take over coaching the program at Cate.
Through her work, O’Malley has demonstrated an ability to engage with her students due to her expressive and jubilant personality. Her many anecdotes from her fascinating life continue to grow as she explores the world one more country at a time and invests in her students’ futures.