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Montgomery County Winners

Elementary School

Kevin McGeogh
4th Grade Teacher
Glen Haven Elementary School

“I believe in what I do and I know that each day teachers make an incredibly significant impact in the lives of their students,” says Kevin McGeogh, a 4th-grade teacher at Glen Haven Elementary School in Silver Spring. “Each day is different and the fulfillment I get from seeing students excel is unmatched by anything else I could do for a living. Teaching affords me the opportunity for life-long learning and to make a living doing something I love. When you love your job it doesn’t feel like work. Nothing gives me more pride or makes me feel more excited and energized than working with my students each day.”

McGeogh, a teacher for five years, earned his B.A. communication studies from University of North Carolina at Wilmington and M.A. in teaching and education from Goucher College. Were he not teaching, he would be “involved in sports of some sort as an athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach, athletic director, or coach. I enjoy the competitiveness, dedication, and mental toughness that it takes to play and compete in any sport.”

His favorite moment as a teacher came during his year as a student teacher at Belmont Elementary School. “I had the same questions that most novice teachers do. Am I going to be an effective teacher? Do I have what it takes to make a positive impact? How do other teachers view me? I enjoyed an incredible student teaching year at a great school, with a great staff, and amazing students. At the conclusion of the year, I walked into the classroom and all of the students from my grade, teachers from the staff, and parents of my students were there to surprise me! They made a scrapbook with letters from parents, staff, and students. They also bought all sorts of gifts for starting off in my new classroom with supplies, gift cards, picture frames, etc. They presented me with a framed picture that was designed by all of the students. At that moment I felt that I had made an impact and that I would be successful as a teacher.”

When it comes to advice, the best he’s been given is, “Never forget your purpose or underestimate the power a teacher has to positively or negatively impact another’s future.” His advice to those interested in teaching as a profession, “Make sure you want to be a teacher for the right reason. If you’re looking for a 9-3 job with summers off, contrary to popular opinion, this isn’t it!”

Mrs. Lewis, McGeogh’s 6th-grade teacher at Laytonsville Elementary in 1990, greatly influenced him.” She made me feel like I was capable of anything in the world. I felt like she had ‘real’ confidence in me. She helped me gain confidence in all aspects of my life.”

The person McGeogh most admires? “I know it sounds cliché, but I admire my dad. The way he takes care of his family and friends, goes out of his way to be there for any and every one, and does so much for others without ever receiving praise or admiration for it amazes me. Throughout my life he has always set an example of honesty, integrity, and honor. Our family name means a great deal to me for these reasons.”

McGeogh’s favorite book is “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney. “This is the book that I read to my 10 month-old son and that I used to read to my 6-year-old daughter each night before bed. They are my Little Nut Brown Hares!”

Jensy Guerra | Nomination essay

High School

Steven Ghent
Physical Education Teacher
Our Lady of Good Counsel High School

“I get great satisfaction working with the ‘underdog’ student that has little or no experience or success with fitness and movement experiences until I get them as students,” says Steven Ghent when asked why he teaches. “Watching as their self-confidence grows is one of my favorite benefits of teaching. It is very easy to record physical performance and improvement but very difficult to measure the growth of their self-confidence. It will help them in many other of life's challenges as they progress into adulthood.”

A physical education teacher for 35 years - 22 of them at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney - Ghent earned his B.S. in health and physical education from Frostburg State University and 30-plus credits in special education from Trinity College. Ghent, who set his sights on becoming a teacher/coach since his early high school years, might be a farmer if he weren’t a teacher. “One of my favorite things is to work outside in my yard and garden. It is very honest work. I also love animals and have several relatives that were farmers in Upstate New York.”

His favorite moment as a teacher came several years ago when a former student stopped in for a visit. “She was a year away from graduating from her college. I had taught her seven years previous in Freshman Physical Education. She had always been into the Goth look and lifestyle and continued that through college. She told me that I was her favorite teacher and I asked her for the reason she felt that way. She said that I ‘wasn't a pushover.’ Short and sweet, but I have never forgotten her and thanked her for her kind words.”

The best advice he’s received as a teacher was the result of Ghent’s work as a special education teacher at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington in the late 1980s. “One of my kids reported back from Christmas break that he had a good gift from his dad over the holidays. He got a carton of Marlboros. The student was real happy. I was bewildered….(A coworker) told me that the kid was very happy with any gift from his dad, as it showed that he at least mattered to him this Christmas. There had been many more holidays that he got not gifts from his dad at all. “I learned that you had to resist looking through your eyes with your family and middle class experience being the filter that colors your reality.”

Ghent’s advice to prospective teachers is to be as “consistent as possible in all you do. Never think you can fool a student; it is easier to fool an adult. Don't take yourself too seriously. Have a good sense of humor. Admit when you are wrong. Over prepare for all of your lessons and classes. Be enthusiastic as possible, even when you are not feeling good. Be very free with compliments but make sure that they are based on real accomplishments. Always be on the lookout for the quiet or withdrawn student and make sure nothing negative is going on. Take care of the little things and the big things are easy.”

It was Mr. Andy Chiarelli, then a new teacher and coach at Glen Cove High School (on Long Island), who most influenced Ghent. “Mr. Chiarelli was very creative in his class and challenged me to work outside my comfort level without being overly concerned about making mistakes along the way. The mistakes were just part of the process. I also played lacrosse for him for three years and he developed my leadership ability. He helped me considerably with accepting the win/loss outcome of the games while being satisfied with the effort of myself and my teammates.

The person he most admires is his father, Bob Ghent. “He was a teacher in Great Neck, New York, who had a second career as an actor after retirement from teaching. He had an incredible work ethic and also was always there for all the different family events as we grew up. He was a man of conviction and did not hesitate to voice unpopular views. We went as a family to many civil rights marches and demonstrations as well as anti-war demonstrations. He served his country in World War II as an army sergeant in the airborne in the South Pacific. My children had a great time with their grandfather as well. “

“Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley is Ghent’s favorite book. It “taught me about my dad's generation and all the heroes in World War II who would never accept being called a hero. They sacrificed for all the generations that followed to have a better life. It gave me even more respect for all the men and women who have ever served their country.”

Kathleen Brown | Nomination essay

Middle School

Marie Umali
6th Grade English and Journalism
Argyle Magnet Middle School

“Being a teacher is one of the greatest gifts on earth,” says Marie Umali. “I have the ability to be the most exciting, influential, positive part of a young person’s day. Every child has a ton of potential. Teachers have the opportunity every day to observe a child’s potential and help it grow.” Umali teaches 6th-grade English and Journalism at Argyle Magnet Middle School in Silver Spring.

Umali earned a B.A. in secondary English language arts education and English language and literature from University of Maryland, College Park and a master’s certificate in bilingual special education from The George Washington University. Were she not a teacher, Umali might be an automotive engineer. “I love looking at cars and have recently become interested in motorcycles. I’ve always been interested in the body and details of cars. I like thinking about how cars can be designed to meet the needs of buyers. Cars are always changing, just like kids and education. I need a career that constantly keeps me learning and striving to be better.”

Last year’s Superhero day during spirit week at Argyle tops the list of Umali’s favorite moments as a teacher. “Everyone dressed up as Batman, Superman, the Hulk, and I dressed as my favorite super hero Michelangelo, the teenaged mutant ninja turtle, of course. One of my students, a 6th-grade girl, came up to me and asked, ‘Ms. Umali, do you know who I am?’ She was wearing a long pink skirt and black shirt. I said, ‘Polly-Pocket?’ She said, “No, I’m you! You’re my superhero!’ That is actually the favorite moment of my life.”

The best piece of advice Umali has been given as a teacher is that “some children go all day without anyone saying their name. While it wasn’t direct advice, this statement has deeply influenced me as a teacher. I make sure to say each of my students’ names every day. It matters, whether we’re in a classroom, hallway or outside. It matters regardless of if they say hi back to me or not. I know you, and you know me. Teaching comes down to relationships. Once you have a caring, trusting relationship with a student, they are able to open up, learn, and grow.”

Her advice to those considering teaching as a career is to “listen. Even if the bell rang, even if you are running late to a meeting, even if you’re stomach is rumbling during lunch because you haven’t had time to eat, listen to each student. When they share their thoughts with you, they are putting their trust in you. Children can become amazing citizens in the world; however, their thoughts and ideas need to start from somewhere. That somewhere can be sharing with someone. That someone can be you.”

Mr. McCarrick was the best English teacher Umali “ever had the pleasure of learning from. He changed my life in 8th grade. He made me become a reader, a real reader who questions what I read and one that connects to the literature so much so that I was able to relate to every character and relate to experiences some can only have in books. He made me want to become the best English teacher in another student’s life.

The people Umali most admires “are all of my coaches I have had the pleasure of playing for. Each and every one of them has made me the person I am. They taught me how to come out of my shell yet to always be modest. They taught me how to be a leader and the importance of being a team player. They taught me that whether you win or lose, you should always strive to be better. I am who I am because of all of my coaches.”

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry is Umali’s favorite book. “I read this book when I was 12 and connected with the main character Jonas who is also 12. Jonas inherits the responsibility of being the ‘Receiver of Memory’ and takes on the community’s emotions, knowledge, history, and pain. I have always felt like Jonas in that I cannot help but feel emotions when I see others hurt, or upset, or when I know something is wrong. Like Jonas, I’m confronted with my thoughts of, ‘I know this is wrong, I have to change it,’ or, ‘This person is feeling sadness, what can I do to help?’ I’ve always felt as if I feel people’s emotions 10 times more than I should. This is why I became a teacher. I want to increase the positive emotions in students’ lives when it comes to school such as joy, excitement, wonder, success and confidence.”

Sarah Mirekua | Nomination essay

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