A Mesa Public Schools teacher is being celebrated for her dedication to her students and their academic goals.
Soumalee McNamara, a fourth-grade teacher at Salk Elementary School, recently received this year’s Excellence in Education Teacher of the Year Award from Phoenix radio station 99.9 KEZ and Taylor Morrison, a national builder and developer based in Scottsdale.
McNamara was presented with a check for $999 at a luncheon hosted at the Hyatt Regency at Gainey Ranch for the nine teachers who had won the radio station’s monthly award.
“It’s still surreal to me, I’m so humbled by it all,” said McNamara. “This was my personal five-year goal and I’ve reached it — it feels great.”
Each month during the school year, a Valley K-12 teacher is selected from nomination entries to be recognized for “their outstanding contribution to education.”
At the end of the school year, all of the teachers gather together for a banquet where one special teacher is awarded the overall Excellence in Education Teacher of the Year Award.
The luncheon also marked the last that KEZ radio host Marty Manning presided over.
Manning, who has been handing out the monthly and annual teacher awards for 14 years, is retiring after a 50-year career in the radio industry.
McNamara said she couldn’t be more thrilled to be recognized for something she has a burning passion for.
“For me, seeing the growth over a long period of time and the impact you can have on even just one student is so rewarding,” she said. “Because in the moment, you don’t think you have an impact on a kid, but as the years go by and the fact that they still want that connection with you — that’s what makes it all worth it.”
McNamara got into teaching five years ago, and never looked back.
The teacher previously worked in the restaurant and service industry, but said she was inspired to get into teaching after she did volunteer work involving children.
“I had opportunities to volunteer with children and I fell in love with it,” she said. “I spoke to some people, especially my dad because he’s a retired teacher, and he said, ‘I think this could be your calling.’”
McNamara studied early childhood education at Scottsdale Community College before transferring to Northern Arizona University for a bachelor’s in early education.
She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in Educational Leadership at NAU and is teaching fourth grade at the Mesa Elementary School.
McNamara said she prides herself in her approach to teaching and always strives to make her students feel included and valued.
“I really thought about the social emotional needs of students,” she said. “I realize that school isn’t necessarily their whole life, but that they spend a majority of their time with us. I started treating my students as if they were my own family.”
“I would bring them food, spend lunch with them or do fun activities to make them feel included,” she continued. “There are a lot of kids I work with who don’t have that connection in their home life, so I found it really important to build those relationships and maintain them.”
But teaching isn’t always smooth sailing, she admitted.
The most challenging part, McNamara said, is dealing with large class size — last year, she had a class size of 31.
“With the class sizes, I don’t ever feel like I’m doing everything I can because the size is so large,” she said. “But you do what you can with what you have.”
In April, McNamara received April’s Teacher of the Month Award, but said she didn’t think she had a shot at winning the overall teacher of the year award.
McNamara is now gearing up to put her prize money back into her classroom, ensuring that all of her students have the necessary supplies and support that they need.
She’s also very thankful that an award of this nature, especially for educators, exists, she said.
“I think it’s so important because we’re in a service of giving without really taking much time for ourselves,” she said. “It feels good to have an adult recognize you for doing something.”
“I’m talking to 10-year-olds all day and they can tell me I’m great,” she continued. “But when you hear it from another adult, you feel somewhat validated and it gives you a lot more fuel to keep going.”