When he was a kid, Joshua Chard dreamed of doing two things when he grew up: becoming an elementary school teacher and being involved in the theater.
With hard work, passion, and persistence, both dreams came true — not only enriching his life but also the lives of countless children in Portland for the past 31 years. Last week, Chard, ’95, was recognized for his creative, inspirational work.
He was named the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year.
“It was a surprise that I got selected because I was up with such an amazing cohort,” Chard said. “It was surprising and thrilling to be the person selected.”
Raised in rural Maine, Chard chose to attend USM because it offered an urban experience, it was affordable, and it had a strong theater department. He majored in Elementary Education with a concentration in Theatre and completed his student teaching at a Portland elementary school in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood. He would stay in Portland schools for the next three decades.
“I found my home. I found my people. I found where I wanted to put down roots,” he said.
In recent years, he moved from teaching fifth grade to teaching a second-third grade loop. He currently teaches a third-grade class at East End Community School, one of the most diverse elementary schools north of Boston.
“I was really excited to discover that I’m really good at teaching kids how to read. It’s pretty exciting to watch kids go from being word readers to being story readers. It’s a pretty amazing thing to be a part of,” Chard said. “And I love the relationships that form and the family feel to the community with younger kids. I’m also really constantly amazed and inspired by the families our school serves. Schools are anchors in their communities and East End is definitely an anchor in this neighborhood.”
As much as Chard loves his school and community, his school and community love him. His principal and assistant principal nominated him for Teacher of the Year. And colleagues told the Maine Department of Education, which helps administer the Maine Teacher of the Year program, that Chard builds relationships with students, meets every student where they’re at, and finds joy in the uniqueness of each human.
“Teaching has changed pretty radically since I went to school, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that effective teachers are all about relationships,” Chard said.
That was a lesson he learned at USM, too. One of his most distinctive memories involves an Education professor who reached out to him after a disastrous final exam. The professor knew Chard had a better understanding of the material just based on his comments in class. That assessment’s format clearly didn’t work for Chard, the professor said, but maybe another way would. He offered Chard a do-over. Rather than a written test, they could have a conversation about the material.
“That modeled for me the fact that different kids and different people need to be assessed in different ways. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all assessment for everybody,” Chard said.
In addition to teaching at East End, Chard also leads the drama club at Deering High School in Portland. In the three years since he’s taken over, the club has gone from nine members to more than 40, and it fully represents the school’s diversity.
“The thing about my drama club is that we are a place that is a strong community where everybody is welcome to come as they are. The word got out that it is a really safe place for kids who often feel they don’t have another safe place to land in high school,” Chard said. “I describe our drama program as a safe place for students who don’t fit in, and in the end we happen to put on a really good show.”
When not in school, Chard is a freelance theater director. This year, he and his husband will direct a show at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine. Chard also enjoys exploring Maine’s beaches and lighthouses with his husband and their 4-year-old and 8-month-old grandsons.
As the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year, Chard will spend the next year advocating for students and teachers, as well as speaking to the importance of education in preparing Maine students for the future. He will also represent Maine in the National Teacher of the Year program.
Chard is quick to say that he didn’t “win” Maine Teacher of the Year.
“This is not a competition where one person comes out on top and wins in the end. In the end, I was selected to be the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year, but I’m part of a cohort of teachers — and also teachers across the state — all of whom are doing amazing work all of the time. My job in 2024 is to represent them and to use this title to be their voice and the voice of public education.”