Education wasn’t Smyth County Teacher of the Year Jerad Ward’s first choice of a career but when it came down to deciding on a course of study in college, one of his teachers came to mind.
“I had every intention of becoming a game warden when I went to college to study environmental science,” said Ward, who now teaches Earth science at Northwood High School. However, playing baseball in college drew him toward coaching.
“I wanted to go into coaching so I knew it would have to be education,” Ward said. “When I was thinking about what discipline, I thought about Kermit Nelson, my dual-credit biology teacher senior year. And I thought if I wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to be a science teacher like Mr. Nelson.”
That decision led the 2002 Chilhowie High School graduate to a bachelor’s degree in education with specialization in biology 9-12 and general science 9-12 from Concord University in 2007 and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Radford University in 2011.
In his ninth year of teaching, Ward started out at Marion Senior High School for a year, went to George Wythe High School in Wytheville for four years, and this is his fourth year back in Smyth County at Northwood.
He also did some of that coaching he desired as head baseball coach at George Wythe for four years and as a varsity boys’ basketball coach at Northwood.
Principal Stan Dunham said he knew Ward when he played ball for Chilhowie High School and that when Ward applied for the job at Northwood, the George Wythe principal said he was losing a great teacher and Northwood was gaining a great teacher.
“We are so fortunate to have him,” Dunham said. “I think if you’re looking for a classroom teacher role model, Jerad would be one of those you’d put up front.”
There are three “E’s” that apply to Ward, said Dunham: encouraging, energetic and engaging.
“He has a dynamic presence in the classroom, and most importantly he develops a positive relationship with every student he teaches,” Dunham said. “He’s a model for other teachers to follow.”
Ward said he wants to do all he can to help his students succeed.
“If I can make an impact on one child’s life a year, I feel like I’ve been successful,” he said.
His philosophy is motivation and support.
“To be a good educator you have to be a good motivator,” Ward said. “Kids have to believe you believe in them and know they can be successful.”
“As educators we have to be nurturing,” he said. “We don’t do this for a paycheck. We care about the students and their success.”
One of the areas in which he enjoys working with students is technology. Ward has been instrumental in the success of Northwood High’s 1:1 Chromebook initiative for incoming ninth-graders. He and fellow NHS teacher Stephanie Holmes were featured speakers at a recent Google Educational Leadership conference at Northwood attended by more than 50 educational leaders from Virginia and Tennessee.
“Chromebook allows us to use Google apps specific for subject areas,” Ward said, explaining that in this age of technology students need this knowledge to succeed and Chromebook meets that need.
The one-to-one initiative is electronic device per student, he explained. Today’s students know this technology, they use it every day, and Chromebook allows teachers to meet all the different learning skills.
When he’s not teaching, Ward enjoys running obstacle-course races. He and his wife, Kelli, a physical-education teacher at Marion Middle School, live in Chilhowie with their two children, Camden, 5, and Emersyn, 11 months.
“I credit all of my success to my Lord and Savior and to the love of my family,” Ward said. “And I want to thank my parents for giving me a work ethic that’s allowed me to be successful in my career.”
As for the recognition as Smyth County Teacher of the Year for 2016-17, Ward said, “It’s a humbling experience. I’m honored to represent Smyth County in the region, and I’m honored to be a teacher in Smyth County. I wouldn’t be as successful without the leadership we have here.”
With his master’s degree in educational leadership, Ward is looking toward a possible future in school administration. He hopes to soon start his doctoral program of studies.
Dunham said he wouldn’t be surprised if Ward went on to school administration and told him he would support him in that effort even though he would hate to lose such a teacher from the classroom.
As for how his students feel about Ward, Dunham said, “They love him. But they know his expectations from the first day. He creates an atmosphere of learning and they know the expectation and they enjoy that. You might not think it, but kids seek discipline. Every student is important to him, and I believe at the end of the day that the result of his efforts are rewarding to them and to himself as well.”