by Dang Le - Fort Worth Report

Omar Márquez sees teaching as an honor and a huge responsibility.

At Applied Learning Academy, where Márquez was once a student and became a science teacher, his students tell him that he’s their first Hispanic male teacher. For some, he’s the only supportive male adult figure they have ever had.

Márquez, 25, wants his students to see they can succeed, too.

Marque said he’s proud to be “able to bring my uniqueness, my heritage, my culture” to the classroom. About 2% of U.S. teachers are Hispanic men.

”I feel like it’s good for them to be able to see that they’ll be proud of where they come from and who they are,” he said.

His parents are immigrants. He was a first-generation college student who earned a full ride to the University of North Texas. And he’s a Fort Worth homeowner.

“I want them to see that and be inspired and say, ‘I can do that, too,’ if that’s what they want to do. Or whatever it is that they want to do, I want them to know that they can do it,” he said.

But it’s not easy to be there for his students all the time, so Márquez keeps a journal for all his emotions: what he wants to create and what his creations will be about, he said.

Márquez has always appreciated public education, where he learned from his teachers the value of kindness and community and eliminating prejudices, he said. But now that he’s a teacher, he finds more obstacles, from unreliable Wi-Fi and cell technology to broken air conditioners.

He channeled those experiences into a six-minute documentary called “A Nation at Risk” about his perspective on public education funding. It’s the first narrative short film for Márquez, who grew up loving photography and making travel videos, he said.

“I found that sharing my story as someone who has been able to experience public education as a student and now as teacher would be helpful in raising awareness for the many problems that the public has the ability to fix,” Márquez said.

In the upcoming school year, he will shift from teaching science to working as a restorative practices coach who manages student conflicts and restores relationships.

When he tells people that he teaches middle school, they ask if he is crazy, Márquez said. He gets the sentiment. Children at this age start to feel different emotions that they don’t know how to handle yet and are just beginning to figure out who they are — all while trying to keep up with school.

“I want them to realize they have the power to create a life for themselves, even at a young age, being able to manage your emotions, control them and be in control of them,” Márquez said.

Many times, students get shut down for their curiosity, so they become shameful and scared and lose their strength, he said.

“The kids need teachers. They need adults there that want to be there. I’m one of those,” he said.

Márquez’s passion for teaching radiates when he talks about how he adores his students.

But he didn’t always plan to teach.

He once worked in marketing, a world he liked but felt his creativity was restricted.

Amid the pandemic when teachers began resigning because of stress, he reached out to Ale Checka, his mentor and seventh-grade teacher. The pair had kept in touch from time to time, like when Checka supported Márquez throughout his undergraduate journey and he helped her with graduate projects.

“It’s crazy to wrap my head around that we would go get lunch during our lunch break and just talk regularly as coworkers instead of students and teachers, but it’s very nice and inspirational to see someone who has meant a lot to you still be in education,” Márquez said.

Márquez started teaching in 2021, but he was able to keep his classroom “an oasis of peace” just based on his presence and organizational skills, Checka said.

A lot of people are good with kids, and many have big hearts, but those skills combined are not enough to be a teacher, she said.

Márquez has those but also solid analytical abilities, a strong stomach to navigate challenges both inside and outside the classroom and a compassionate heart to handle interpersonal relationships with kids and parents, Checka said.
Challenges arise

Márquez understands the challenges his students face.

While his parents have supported his teaching career, Márquez had little guidance from them through most of his college process as a first-generation student, he said.

Stop Six, a low socioeconomic community where he grew up, shaped who he is as a teacher, he said. And now that he has opportunities to see other areas compared with Stop Six, he said, he understands the inequities within the city of Fort Worth.

But throughout all those challenges, Márquez said, he is proud of all he has made for himself, and he wants to give back to his students the same type of support that he was once given.

Teaching is a grueling profession to enter because of the circumstances from the past few years, but Checka said Márquez keeps adjusting and being generous with asking for help and offering them.

“How he started as a teacher – it is mind-blowing that he did that and that he was successful at it,” she said.

Márquez has a passion for creating an impact in his community, he said, and teaching is the most optimal option because he can reach students as humans at their core when they’re younger.

And although he had preconceived notions about teaching, he now sees it as a way to influence and be a leader and role model for his students.

It’s a challenge — one Márquez said he feels he’s ready for.

Go to website.

July 24, 2023