Shakespeare probably didn’t have Rhianna Williams Dowling in mind when he wrote in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, “And though she be but little, she is fierce.” Yet, that is the profile picture on her Facebook page. Mrs. Dowling and her students at Sneads High would confirm that the description, though not originally written about her, is accurate. There is no doubt that the students she teaches would also have their own ideas and methods for interpreting and explaining quotes from the classics. They would also be able to justify their responses by detailing all the many things that they see Mrs. Dowling do in the course of the school day or year to benefit the school and students. There is rarely an event or group function at the school for which Mrs. Dowling is not present. Her ferocity spreads itself from serving as the school’s improvement coordinator to getting really involved in the happenings that make school more fun like participating in the annual Homecoming week dress-up days and helping man the concession stand or begging for auction items for area clubs. Mrs. Dowling was also the cheerleader coach (at both MHS and Sneads) for many years.
Married to Don Dowling, athletic director at Grand Ridge Middle School, Rhianna is the mother of two sons—Don Young, a student at Chipola and Tucker, an eighth grader at Grand Ridge. Either of the boys would tell you that their mother is their major support in any activity they are involved in. Both boys have been very involved in Future Farmers of America and Mrs. Dowling, a farm girl herself, is always available to lend her presence and services to the group.
Mrs. Dowling graduated from Grand Ridge High School and represented the community as its Peanut Festival contestant where she won the highly coveted award in Verbal Communication. She graduated from Chipola and earned her B.S in English Education from Troy State where she later also earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. She currently teaches English to ninth graders and seniors.
The Dowlings are active in Salem Wesleyan Methodist Church north of Sneads. There, Mrs. Dowling serves as the Sunday School Superintendent and works with her husband to lead the YEWTS youth group on Wednesday. The church’s youth praise band also practices before the youth meeting each Wednesday; Tucker plays guitar with the group and Don Young operates the sound. She has been instrumental in planning and preparing for Vacation Bible School each summer during which the small church welcomes over 100 children every night of the week.
Having grown up in the surrounding countryside, Mrs. Dowling knows many Sneads High families and is able to relate extremely well to the students. Students feel that she is “down to earth” but she has “high expectations” for them. Her students also know that she appreciates the advantages of going to a small school while she wants them to learn “stuff like Romeo and Juliet.” She works hard to help them to recognize the universal themes of such classics and to identify these themes as still relevant to their own lives.
Karen Hall, a colleague at Sneads, says that Mrs. Dowling is a “get it done” person, someone who can put an idea into action and get any job done. “While some are of the opinion that anything out of their classroom is not their job, Rhianna is always ready to help and willing to work.” In that way, she teaches a work ethic by example. Uncomplaining, energetic, and determined, she will contribute to any project or idea that benefits students and Sneads High School.
Joyce Dudley has had the opportunity to work with Rhianna Dowling several years and sings her praises loudly, “Rhianna is an amazing teacher. It is quite a transition going from middle school to high school and Rhianna helps her ninth graders so much. She introduces more advanced teaching techniques, sets higher standards for her students, and expects a more mature atmosphere, while at the same time realizing the students are still children - not expecting them to be adults - which allows everyone to be able to live, laugh, and learn in her class.”
Former colleague, LuAnn Law, relates that she loved working with Rhianna at MHS, “Rhianna’s heart for her students and her school is amazing. She continually looks for ways to engage her students. Rhianna’s classroom is one of the best examples of a Kagan classroom at the high school level in the county. She has helped shape the ninth-grade curriculum for Jackson County, and has willingly given up a week of her summer for the last four years to do so. I believe that her students are lucky to have such a dedicated teacher. When Rhianna sees a need both in the classroom or on campus, she steps in and meets that need. She is always looking for ways to promote a positive school culture and encourages those around her to do the same.”
Just as Shakespeare had the edge on analyzing human nature and putting his thoughts about it in writing, outstanding teachers like Mrs. Dowling stand the test of time with their influence lasting for a student’s lifetime. Government and legislation can do everything it wants designed to impact the quality of education a student gets but the one thing that stands most importantly in the process is the TEACHER devoted to giving a professional and personal best to students. Nothing else comes close!