Model Monday: Mr. Umali’s Hero, Nada Oakley

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Nada Oakley – Excellence and Love

By: Carlito Umali

In my senior Buddhist Philosophy class, I heard my professor say, “You become a teacher because you cannot thank one enough.” The teacher that did that for me was Nada Oakley.  She is a professor of English at Seattle Central Community College. Through her commitment to excellence and love for her students, she has shaped my identity as a teacher.

I came to Seattle Central Community College in 2004 feeling unready but hungry to learn. Reading and writing did not come easy to me – for those reasons – I chose English as my major. To give you a context of my lack of reading and writing skills, I showed my 7th grade class a video tape of me giving my first speech in my communications class in college. I had functional issues in my verb tenses, nouns, and vocabulary. At that core, I was a student at risk.

I, the at-risk student, entered her class.  Each of her literature classes had the same assignment format:

  1. A massive reading list
  2. An independent reading assignment, in which no choices were easy
  3. One 5 page essay
  4. One 2 hour mid-term with two 5 page essays due the same day
  5. One 3 hour final with a two 5 page essays due the same day
  6. A ten page research paper on the independent reading book

In the first class that I took with her, which was Shakespeare, I was going to fail.  Instead of throwing me away; she saved me.  She allowed me to complete the missing work through the following quarter on the condition that I came in one day a week to polish my skills and I had to take her Novels class the following quarter – this time without falling behind.

Each session, she would provide me examples, talk me through the thinking, and ask me to practice in front of her.  With care and attention, she would point out strong and flawed thinking. I got a B- in that first class and completed the second class. I went on to take four more classes with her.

That leap of faith that she took with me changed the course of my life. I believed in my abilities. I believed I was adequate enough for any challenge.  I believed that success was achievable. Through her one heroic act of not letting me slip through the cracks, she made me see the powerful force that teaching can be.

I know I am not alone. She has helped countless others. The students that I personally know were a cancer survivor, a former homeless teen, and a former alcoholic. I went off to be commencement speaker at my undergraduate graduation and went to graduate school with enough scholarships to not have to take out a loan. Those other students went on to Smith College, Columbia, and NYU with scholarships.

She taught with her heart and truly believed that each student mattered. As a teacher at TAF Academy, I continue her passionate and loving work. I hope my career as a teacher will let her know how much I love and thank her.


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