To Improve Their Students’ Lives
Story & Photos by LISA ANDERSON
Rhonda Williams & Annette Garcia
Annette Garcia and Rhonda Williams are two peas in a pod. Their harmony is evident in all of their interactions. It’s like watching chords on a guitar come together to form a beautiful song. “We play off our strengths and weaknesses together,” Rhonda explains. “The kids know. If you don’t want me, then do what you need to do with her.” She points to Annette, and they both laugh.
They teach eleventh and twelfth graders at Forest High school. “We take an inactive reader and flip that switch to an active reader,” Rhonda clarifies.
Leaving the Rat Race
Annette was born and raised in New York, but in 2005, she moved her two girls down to Ocala to get away from the rat race. She had been a paralegal, but when she got here, she decided to take a sub position at Fort King Middle School. She was immediately put into a classroom, where she fell in love with teaching. “It’s funny, because I never thought I had the patience. But when you get in the classroom and see someone struggling, you want to know [why].”
She immediately got the required certifications and started teaching reading for sixth through eighth grade at Fort King, where she remained for eight years. She then transferred to Forest High School, where she now works closely with Rhonda.
Annette’s passion for teaching is rooted in the desire to see her students succeed. She wants all of them to pass, but if she can help one child per year, she knows she’s helped to change at least one life. “They can drive us crazy. But I can go home, and, tomorrow, I’ll feel better about it. Bottom line is they’re kids. Most of the time when I have a hard interaction with someone, [it’s] not necessarily that they’re trying to be disrespectful to me. It’s just that they’re trying to shelter what’s wrong with them, what’s going on at home, or what’s personally going on. I’ve learned that,” Annette says.
Third Generation Teacher
“I love children, and I love being creative,” Rhonda proudly states. Born and raised in Ocala, she is a third-generation teacher. She began teaching at Forest High School 30 years ago, when her father was still there teaching. Now, her daughter, a graduate of Forest High, is starting her teaching career there, making her a fourth-generation teacher.
“[Annette and I] are in reading, and the state’s standards and the state assessments change all of the time. They change, and there’s no materials to come right then. They come two or three years after. So, you need the ability to be very, very creative. I love doing lesson plans. I love going out and finding those resources. I think that’s what pulled me into [teaching].”
Moving Past the Stigmas
Annette and Rhonda know there is a stigma about the students they teach, and it troubles the two teachers. They would like to see more empathy from everyone, because “some of our kids are holding full-time jobs and going to school,” Annette explains.
“It’s easy to teach an AP kid. It’s not easy to teach our kids,” Annette continues. “Our kids make huge strides and never get recognized for it.”
They teach in separate classrooms, but Annette and Rhonda are dedicated to working together. “The ultimate goal is we want them to pass. We don’t care who does it, or how it gets done, but the kids know [we’re] a package deal,” Rhonda says, as she points back and forth to Annette and herself.
Passionate teachers, like Annette and Rhonda, are exactly what our school systems need. Both take the time to really get to know their students, and by the end of the year, they have learned about their background and what they’re dealing with outside of school. Because of their relationships with the kids, Annette feels she and her counterpart have a more intuitive response to their needs.
Their deep desire to serve their students and to engage the community is obvious in everything they say. They would love to see business support specifically for their reading class, because they are in need of so many materials. They also wish the business community would step up and talk with their students about all the possibilities in this world, whether or not they have a college degree.
No matter what, Annette and Rhonda are here to make sure their students pass and have a life-changing experience in their classrooms.