Adventures of Janet Williams

Janet Williams share expansive memories, broad life experiences

Williams was a player on Season Five of “Jeopardy” on May 23, 1989. She was featured on episode number 1102.

Submitted by: Janet Williams

Williams was a player on Season Five of “Jeopardy” on May 23, 1989. She was featured on episode number 1102.

Janet Williams was in the yearbook at Northridge High School, located in Middlebury, Indiana. The 1977 photo above, showcases Williams instructing her science classes. (Submitted by Janet Williams)

Janet Williams was not always interested in teaching chemistry. Williams, who grew up in southern Michigan, explains that Chemistry was probably her least favorite class in high school. She didn’t click with her chemistry teacher and instead, really enjoyed her social studies classes. It wasn’t until she got to college that she started to take interest in Chemistry and science in general. In regards to this switch in studies, Williams said, “It’s good to know what you want to do, but you might also change your mind three times.” Her switch to the sciences and math proved to be the right choice; Williams has been teaching some form of chemistry or algebra at various schools over the past 47 years. 

Williams’ first time coming to Minnesota was to interview for her job here at Blake. She has been teaching at Blake for 27 years and now calls Minnesota home. Over her time at Blake, Williams has taught many different classes in relation to math and chemistry but for the last several years, she has taught sophomore Chemistry. She said, “It’s my favorite spot. I have enjoyed that class, that section the most.” Williams enjoys working with sophomores because she believes it’s the year that people grow up as students. She explained, “Freshman year is about transitioning and getting to know the school, and then junior year we ask you to be a really good student, and sophomore year is the year that you become that student.” 

The first time Williams traveled abroad, as well as her first time on a plane, was for college when she studied in Strasbourg, France. The highlight of Williams’ career as a teacher has been the time she spent teaching abroad in Brussels, Belgium, and Cairo, Egypt for four years each. She also spent a year teaching in Scotland and a year in China. What Williams enjoys most about teaching abroad is the type of people she has been able to meet and work with. She said, “I think growing up in a small town before the internet [was] pretty limit[ing] and isolat[ing].” Through her time abroad, Williams was able to experience a multitude of different people, cultures, and lifestyles. Working in Egypt and China was the most impactful to her in this sense. She explains, “In Europe and Western Europe, so much is like [America] and Cairo is so profoundly different.” Williams continues, “At all the other places, I had been really surrounded by a community of people like me, and the year I was in China, I was really in a Chinese setting. I could go day after day and not see another American. That was an interesting challenge.” 

I think growing up in a small town before the internet [was] pretty limit[ing] and isolat[ing].

— Janet Williams

During her exchange year in Scotland, Williams got to observe the school she taught at transition from being an all-boys school to co-ed. She adds, “What was so interesting was that it had been an all-boys school for a hundred and some years, and the year I came was the first year they had any female teachers. How the school dealt with becoming co-ed was such an interesting process to watch.” Williams considers her passion for traveling and teaching abroad as her biggest and most interesting hobby. She said, “Besides traveling, I probably have a pretty boring life.” When asked about her biggest takeaways or lessons learned from her time abroad, Williams had this to say, “This sounds so desperately trite, but the similarities are so much greater than the differences. Every group of people I’ve worked with are people I really liked, admired, and enjoyed.”

Williams teaches her chemistry class in a 1978 yearbook. She shared that before beginning her teaching career, she wasn’t drawn to chemistry in high school. Over the years; however, her love for the subject has clearly grown. (Submitted by Janet Williams)

Williams’ love for teaching stems from her students, her colleagues, and her love for school in general. Williams notes that she’s learned so much from her students, but specifically, she’s noted their resiliency. She said, “I was really proud of the ways most kids handled a really crappy [last] year .” She has consistently noticed the genuine kindness and care students have for each other, which she finds inspiring. Williams especially enjoys the structure that the school day provides. She said, “I like the routine of [school]. I think it’s an exciting atmosphere. There’s always something going on. It’s always interesting.” She adds, “The thought of retiring or vacation … I just don’t like not having a schedule. I want to have something to do.” For that reason, Williams hasn’t made any plans on retiring soon.

Williams said she has “a good memory for stupid, irrelevant, small details.” This skill came in handy when she competed on Season Five of the trivia game show “Jeopardy” in 1989. She decided to try out because she “had watched [Jeopardy] for years and I’d sit at home and go ‘Oh! I know those questions!’” The process to get on the show was a little extensive. First, Williams had to fly out to California to take a test. In order to qualify, she had to answer 47 of the 50 questions correctly. After qualifying for the show, Williams had to fly back out to California to tape her episode. Williams explained that there had previously been quiz show scandals in the 1950s so there were many measures put in place to prevent cheating. “They would pass answers to people, and so they put all sorts of rules that you can’t see anybody. As soon as you get on the show and you get there, they put you in a small room and you can’t talk to anyone attached to the show except the person who’s kind of your [chauffeur].” 

Every group of people I’ve worked with are people I really liked, admired, and enjoyed.

— Janet Williams

Alex Trebek, the well-known and long-time host of “Jeopardy,” was relatively new when Williams played. Trebek began hosting the show in 1984, five years prior to when Williams was featured. Williams noted that the taping schedule was so busy that she didn’t get to interact with him. Williams explains, “You walk out onto the stage and that is the first time that you see Alex Trebek and he shakes your hand.” 

While Williams enjoyed her time on the show, she did not end up winning the season. She played against two other competitors, Rich Lerner from Maryland and Lisa Miller from Texas. In the end, Miller ended up winning with Williams placing third. However, Williams excelled in the second round, closely following her fellow “Jeopardy” stars.