Every morning, Joshua Chard greets his students by name in the hall outside his classroom at East End Community School in Portland, one of the most culturally diverse elementary schools north of Boston. Checking with them individually to see that each student has breakfast, assessing how they are feeling, and ensuring everyone has found a ‘just right book’ to start their day. Chard’s dedication to creating a safe, rigorous and equitable environment for his diverse learners is one of the many reasons he has earned the honor of being named the 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year.

A recognition that he shares with his third-grade class, “My students started this process with me last year when they were in second grade. They see themselves as the Maine class of the year, and they feel proud of their class and proud of their school.” he says. Chard says he plans to use this platform to be a positive voice for Maine public education and to disrupt negative narratives about public schools. “While urban and rural schools have their own unique assets and challenges, ultimately what they share in common outweighs their differences,” he says. “I see this as an opportunity to represent all of Maine schools.”

Chard has known he wanted to be an elementary school teacher since fifth grade. As someone who was disconnected and a struggling learner early on, it was his fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Breau, who made a special connection that changed everything. “Mrs. Breau was an eccentric and amazing teacher. She told me that what I was doing in school wasn’t good enough and convinced me that I could be a learner; she saw me for who I was.” Chard said. He hopes his students have the same takeaway after being in his class. “I want my students to know that they are perfect the way they are, that they are insightful, hilarious, and amazing citizens of the world.”

My students started this process with me last year when they were in second grade, they see themselves as the Maine class of the year, and they feel proud of their class and their school.

Joshua Chard
2024 Maine Teacher of the Year

The veteran teacher is now in his 32nd year at Portland Public Schools. He has taught fourth and fifth grade, served as an instructional coach, and currently teaches a second and third-grade loop at East End Community School. Chard says that he has seen Portland schools become more diverse, and is proud that teachers throughout Portland are committed to creating culturally responsive education that celebrates everyone in their community. “Portland schools are a welcoming place prepared to embrace students from all around the world,” Chard states. “But Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives aren’t just a Portland thing; they’re important for all of Maine because all of our schools and all of our learners have diverse needs, and our students deserve to be educated in an equitable environment.”

In addition to his classroom duties, Chard is the advisor of the Deering Players, Deering High School’s drama club. During the four years he has led the club, he has built a community of young actors from nine to forty. In early March, the Deering Players took home a Class A Regional One Acts title with their play. “Our goal this year was to not come in last during regional one-act festival because that’s where we placed last year. But something amazing happened–five students were called up for acting awards, our student lighting designer received an award, and the tech crew was recognized for set construction and painting. I started thinking we may place, and we did more than place. We won the title. These students will never forget the night we came in first,” Chard said proudly.

Chard works to remove barriers to participation in Drama Club, finding ways to work around students’ after-school schedules, implementing a ‘no cuts’ approach to casting, and instituting a ‘pay what you can’ ticketing system to the performance to remove financial barriers to participation. “That’s what teachers do daily,” Chard said, “we remove barriers to success.” At drama club, he says, his students have found a place where they feel safe, to be their true selves.

Q&A With Joshua Chard

Q: What does it mean to you to have been chosen as Maine’s Teacher of the Year?

A: As a man who teaches early elementary school, a veteran teacher who is still passionate about the work, teaching in an urban school in Maine—a primarily rural state, and a member of the LBGTQ+ community, I have an opportunity to show that we can lift up and celebrate diverse learners.

Q: What are you looking forward to as Maine Teacher of the Year?

A: Being the 2024 Maine TOY opens doors and allows me to speak about the amazing things happening in schools across the state. But, as excited as I am about the opportunity to be a spokesperson, I am also excited about a year of professional learning with teachers from across the country.

Q: What do you love to do outside of school?

A: I serve on the Board of Lyric Music Theater in South Portland. At Lyric, I spearheaded initiatives like ‘Sensory Friendly Shows,’ a ‘pay what you can’ price structure and ASL interpretation to make theater more accessible for all. This year, we launched “Unified Productions,” integrating actors with and without developmental and intellectual disabilities into musicals. Additionally, a new passion is directing children’s musicals at the Children’s Theater of Maine, where I directed the musicals Knuffle Bunny and A Year with Frog and Toad.

Q: What is your advice for new teachers today?

A: Relish every moment and don’t let the hard days get in the way of your passion. Find mentors that are enthusiastic and that you can rely on to lift you up and your students. Put the kids first because you might be the only adult they can count on. Remember that you are important in their lives, and maybe years down the road, you will find out how much you mean to them, just like I have in my TOY Journey.

Q: What would you like to leave members with?

A: I have been a member of MEA since I started my career in education. MEA gives us all a collective voice to advocate for our students and our work. We are all much more powerful when we speak with a collective voice and stand up together. Teachers with strong representation are happier teachers. Happy teachers lead to happy and successful students. In the end, isn’t that what we are all about?