Remote Chance: Señor Williams Makes Connections in New Platform 


Dennis Racket

Making It Work: Like so many other teachers at North Atlanta, Señor Tom Williams — who teaches IB Spanish — has had to adapt and thrive in a Zoom School platform.

With the transition to online school, even some of the most experienced teachers can feel like the new kids on the block. Going into his 12th year at North Atlanta and his 24th year as an educator overall, the move to “Zoom School” has certainly been a novel experience for IB Spanish teacher Thomas Williams. The experienced teacher said the remote-education setting can even make him feel like a first-year teacher all over again. For Williams, navigating the online school process has included working through the rigors of Zoom breakout rooms and limiting distractions in his home — in his case his rambunctious three young children and an equally rambunctious dog. But nevertheless, he persists through these newfound challenges, always trying to get the best out of his students.

Williams’s teaching path started with his undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia where he obtained a degree in comparative literature. A one-time English-Language Arts teacher, Williams learned Spanish when he moved to Bogota, Colombia, in his early-20s for a life adventure and to teach English. While in South America he developed his love for the Spanish language and Latin American culture. After those adventures, he moved to New York City, and it was there he became certified to become a teacher. Williams, who holds certifications in both ELA and Spanish, has called Atlanta Public Schools his teaching home for the last 18 years. He first taught at Maynard Jackson High School and then transferred to North Atlanta (in what school 2009. For many years here he has taken on the rigors of teaching Spanish to juniors and seniors in the IB Diploma Programme. “I became a teacher because I wanted to have a positive impact on my students,” Williams said. “And the cool thing is that every day you really get a sense that you’re doing that.” 

Early on in this current pandemic-impacted school year, Williams — like all of his colleagues — had to figure out the ins and outs of the district’s robust remote-education learning platforms. But what’s been hardest for a sociable teacher like Williams, he said, has been the curtailed abilities Zoom gives for getting to know his students. The screen does not allow for discussions about future aspirations and goals. Williams said he’s missed walking around his classroom and talking with students, both individually and in small groups. “Teachers have to give up a lot of control and have faith that students are trying to learn the material,” Williams said. “It’s all so different.”

Williams goal with the Spanish language has always been to make his students feel comfortable enough to learn the language. Learning a secondary language requires taking a risk, and Williams says that students won’t be able to take this risk if they aren’t comfortable in the classroom.

When he was younger, Williams said he was blessed to be surrounded by teachers who had a big impact on his life. He quickly became aware of how important it was for young children and students to have adults outside of their parents in their lives, both working with and advocating for them. Whether it be in the classroom or through a computer screen, Williams has always worked hard to fulfill this role for his students.