“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.”