Associate Professor of Middle & Secondary Education
Ed.D., Nova Southeastern University
M.Ed., University of Southern Maine
B.S., University of Southern Maine
“If I had started teaching at a university in my twenties, it would have been all about theory. Now when I share the research and theory, I can back it up with actual stories and experiences from the classroom. My students love those examples because they are real and authentic,” said UMF Associate Professor of Education Grace Ward.
Ward came to the University of Maine at Farmington after a 25-year career in public school education as a high school math teacher, principal, and a school district superintendent. Sharing her professional experience is a powerful teaching tool, she said.
“I’ve had an impact on some school districts, but I wanted to have an impact on Maine as a whole. My goal is to train 1,000 teachers who will … make those critical changes for the 21th century for the students of Maine. That’s why I came to UMF. I felt like I needed to give back, and I just wanted to create these passionate educators who are teaching because they care,” Ward said.
Into the Classroom
Ward’s specialty is curriculum, instruction and assessment. She, with her colleagues Theresa Overall and Beth Evans, collaboratively teach the practicum block, the second-year course where education majors assist teachers in local schools.
“This is where students learn whether they really want to be teachers. They get the chance to learn the theory at the University and then go into the schools and try it. This is where they learn to develop units and lesson plans, understand assessment strategies, and meet the different needs of all the learners in their classroom,” Ward said.
“My job is to get them thinking like teachers. It’s incredible to see their growth in one semester. By the time they are done practicum, they are becoming educators. My students understand the language; they have a much deeper understanding and they know how to apply it,” Ward said.
“It’s very practical. They are learning the skills they are going to use in their future classes, student teaching and their professional career,” Ward said.
“By the time my students leave my class, they understand that they need to become life-long learners. They are never going to stop learning because they have to stay current. They have to stay on top of their profession,” Ward said.
Making Professional Connections
One of Ward’s favorite courses focuses on teaching middle school students, specifically children between the ages of 10 and 14.
“That course is so much fun because we create our own middle school, and my students become the staff. They become the grade level teams who create integrated units. I let them set up the schedule and implement the true middle school philosophy. Eventually we visit a nearby middle school where my students present their lesson plans to the teachers during a staff development meeting,” Ward said.
Not only do student teachers benefit from expert feedback, but they also make professional connections that could help them in their future career, Ward said. She and her fellow faculty members are committed to supporting and advising their students even after graduation.
“We tell our students we are there for you even when the course is over, even when you graduate. We are still resources for you. We become members of their professional learning community. We encourage them to stay in contact with their classmates,” Ward said.
Your First Job Interview
In Ward’s Philosophy and History of Education course, Education majors research and develop their own teaching philosophy as well as get a crash course in how to apply and market themselves for teaching positions, including a dress rehearsal for their first job interview.
“I end up finishing that course by giving them an exit interview. Students select a school that has a job opening, then they prepare their portfolio and resume. I interview them as the superintendent, and I customize their interview by researching the school and creating questions that reflect the school’s philosophy,” Ward said.
A Reputation for Excellence
“When I was a superintendent, I used to put all the UMF resumes on top. Those are the ones I wanted to see first,” Ward said, “Our students end up getting interviews because they come from UMF. A UMF degree opens doors for them. I recently got a call from a superintendent in New Hampshire looking for UMF graduates.”
“When I ask my students why they want to become a teacher, every single one of them has a story about a teacher that made a difference in their lives and became a model for them. We’re talking about outstanding teachers,” Ward said. Some of those outstanding teachers are UMF graduates, and that is why students end up pursuing a UMF teaching degree, she added.
One student traveled from California to study at UMF. Ward said. That student told Ward she came to UMF because she did her research and came to the conclusion that UMF is one of the best teacher’s colleges in the country.
“Take a look at my wall,” said Ward, pointing to a set of group photos in her office. “These are of all the practicum students I have had for the past five years. I can tell you where practically all of them are teaching in Maine, New England and Colorado, even Korea. We are getting to the point where the students we first trained are now educators mentoring our newest student teachers,” she added.
In addition to teacher education, UMF also offers students access to a liberal arts education and study abroad opportunities all while enjoying small class sizes as well as individual support from education professors, Ward added.
Actively Enjoying Maine Outdoors
A former speed skater, gymnast and gymnastics coach, Ward has enjoyed an active lifestyle for much of her life and the outdoor recreation available in western Maine.
“If you are going to be in Maine you have to spend time outside. I love downhill and cross country skiing, and skating in the winter. My husband and I like to golf and sail. That’s when we get out and forget everything and enjoy Maine in the summer,” Ward said.