Angela Rodriguez wanted to be a teacher from the time she was little, but the business world seemed a more reasonable option by the time she got to college.
Even then, Rodriguez couldn’t stop working with kids. She helped choreograph and direct children’s musicals. When her own children entered their school years at Brookwood Elementary, she volunteered on the school’s PTA and with the local school council.
“It just reignited my love of being in the school,” Rodriguez said, “and I said, ‘You know what, I've just got to go back and make this happen.’”
So, at 38 years old, Rodriguez went back to school, earned a Masters of Education and fulfilled her childhood dream.
After three years as a paraprofessional, then a year each teaching kindergarten and first-grade, Rodriguez has unexpectedly but happily settled in teaching English and language arts to sixth-graders at South Forsyth Middle School.
“I always said I would never go above second-grade. I love the little bitties,” Rodriguez said. “Once my personal children got into middle school, I realized that that’s a hard age for these kids, and that they go through a lot of change. They’re struggling to figure out who they are. They’re struggling to fit in. I felt a personal calling that I could really help and mentor those kids.”
The help hasn’t gone unnoticed. Rodriguez was voted the Forsyth County News’s Teacher of the Month for March by the community, and she talked about leaving the business world for teaching, the misconceptions of middle school kids and who’s the best tennis player in her family.
After leaving the business world, what was your first year of teaching like?
“It was like a dream come true. Every day, I woke up and went into my classroom, I wanted to pinch myself, because this is what I've always wanted to do.
“I feel like I was very blessed to actually not have a [typical] first year. Mainly because I was older and I was teaching at my kids’ school, so the parents already knew who I was, and they didn’t realize because of my age that I was a first-year teacher.
“But also having my own children and having seen them through school and volunteering in the classroom a lot, I kind of knew what to expect. Because what they teach you in school really isn’t the best preparation. It’s really once you get in there.
“I really do say as much as I love education and kind of wish I'd always been in it, at the same time I don't wish I'd always been in it, because I came in with a completely different view and experience. It set me up to starting to be a teacher and educator at the exact perfect time in my life.”
I’ve heard middle school is considered the hardest age group to teach. Do you think that’s true?
“I would think it’s the hardest age group just because they are changing so much and they’re dealing with so many things. But I think it’s a hidden gem. Sometimes we think they’re teenagers, and they’re not quite teenagers yet in sixth-grade. They’re still kids, and they just want to have fun, they just want to learn, they just want to feel love and encouraged.”
“I think if we can give them a safe place where they feel like they’re loved and they can come and talk to their teacher at any time, that we’re constantly encouraging them … when they know that we care and love, they trust us. I see them more engaged in the learning process, and they want to do well not only for themself but they want to impress me.
“These kids are just some of the best kids around. That age group is amazing.”
You have two middle school-aged children yourself. Are they a helpful resource for teaching?
“I’ve been able to see what they come home and talk about. I’m able to run my lessons by my children and they’ll tell me the truth. ‘Mom, that’s kind of dumb’ or ‘That’s kind of boring,’ or, ‘That’s awesome, I wish my teacher would do that.’”
What do you like to do outside of teaching?
“I am actually a singer. I sang at First Redeemer Church as a part of the praise team there.
“My family and I love to travel to any beach anywhere. We tend to go to Destin — the same place, the same house — every fall break.
“And any outdoor exercise with my family. We ride bikes. We play tennis. And on a normal schedule on the weekends you will find me watching my kids playing basketball somewhere.”
Who is the best tennis player in the family?
“Well, my husband and I actually met playing tennis. He is definitely the best. He was ranked in Louisiana. He could’ve gone to the pro circuit but got burned out.”
What’s your favorite part about being a teacher?
“My favorite part is just watching these kids. They come in on Day 1 and they leave as a completely different person.
“I look at it as 180 days that we have to build a relationship with a student, to encourage them, to love on them, to help them learn and grow and hopefully change them for the rest of their lives.