A man who, as a young student, struggled in school until he was helped by his fifth grade teacher, has now himself been honored as Maine’s 2024 Teacher of the Year.
“School was hard for me,” Joshua Chard, a third grade teacher at East End Community School in Portland, said upon accepting the honor at a surprise assembly at the school Wednesday. “There were days where everyone understood what was happening but me.”
He described those days as confusing, where he would get in trouble and, no matter how hard he tried, he felt he couldn’t do enough.
His teacher changed him, and he learned that “my world was only as small as my imagination.”
“Those are things I carried to this day,” Chard said. “That I deserved to be loved just for being me.”
Chard has been passing those lessons on to his students for 31 years. In that time, the Maine Department of Education notes, he has worked as an educational technician, taught fourth and fifth grade and coached mathematics.
In addition to teaching third grade at East End, he is also the drama director of Deering High School.
“It’s a good thing Mr. Chard has such a big heart to hold two school communities,” 2023 Teacher of the Year Matt Bernstein of Casco Bay High School told the assembly.
Quoting from Chard’s students, Bernstein said Chard “has magical powers.” Those powers include work that “elevates education in Portland and in Maine.”
“His patience, selflessness and commitment to building community … inspires us to be more magical ourselves,” Bernstein said. “Once you are a Chardling, you are a Chardling for life.”
According to Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin, Chard won the honor, in part, by “his ability to make each and every person feel welcome and like they belong.”
"Colleagues, parents and community members describe Joshua as kind, loving, passionate, generous and someone who finds joy in the uniqueness of each human," Makin said in a press release.
Chard was named the 2023 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year, and was selected from a pool of hundreds of teachers nominated to be Maine’s 2024 Teacher of the Year, a year-long process that includes interviews, presentations and classroom visits by a selection panel.
Chard was nominated by his principal Boyd Marley and assistant principal Kelly Thornhill.
Chard will spend his 12 months as Teacher of the Year advocating for students and teachers and speaking to the importance of education. He will also represent Maine in the National Teacher of the Year program.
“Joshua Chard’s selection as the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year is a testament not only to him as a remarkable educator but also is continued evidence of the high caliber of the educators we are fortunate to have at the Portland Public Schools,” said Portland Public Schools Superintendent Ryan Scallon in the release. “We are incredibly proud of Joshua and very grateful for his dedication to student success, which he demonstrates daily in his teaching.”
Chard also enjoys participating in local theater as an actor and director and exploring beaches and lighthouses with his husband and their grandsons, according to the department of education.
As to how he feels about being nominated for Teacher of the Year, Chard told the assembly, “It was amazing to be seen.”
He added: “There’s a lesson here. When we persevere … we can accomplish great things.”