Teacher Feature: Mr. Jeffery Ward

Teacher Feature: Mr. Jeffery Ward

For today’s teacher feature we’re sitting down and talking with the silver fox of the science department, Mr. Jeffery Ward. 


Q: What is your favorite concert that you’ve been to?


A: I saw Bruce Springsteen in 2009, right before the Mellon Arena shut down. That place was rocking. Fans would hold up signs of different songs and Bruce would see the sign and ask his bandmates if they wanted to play the song. Sometimes it was a Beatles song or a classic Bruce song, it was just cool. 


Q: What is your Fattest moment? 


A: Buffets are not around much like they used to be before the pandemic, so I was in Las Vegas for a race a few years back and I certainly ate well. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one hour. I didn’t eat 97 wings like Mr. Williams, but that would be my thing. I thought the question was more about when you feel guilty eating and that’s any time I eat something sweet, sugary, and inside of a bowl.


Q: What’s your favorite student slang and could you use it in a sentence?


A: I heard May Engel say something the other day. She said “he’s him” or something like that, so I was trying that out a few times. ‘I’m him’ and ‘he’s me’ or stuff like that. In class, I tried to use it the next day and it was miserable. 


Q: Craziest place you’ve visited? 


A: Las Vegas is crazy; I’m not a gambler in terms of sitting there at a table with cards or something like that, but there is so much activity just walking up and down the strip. You’re like a bobblehead, just looking around like that. So that’s definitely a contender. Another place for the opposite effect was Anchorage, Alaska. It was August in Anchorage and the weather was in the 50’s and there was a light drizzle. During the race, all you could see was nature. The course was just one straight path with no one there. So those were two extremes, Las Vegas for the craziness and Anchorage for the peace and tranquility. 


1988 White Buick Skylark

Q: What was the first car you bought?


A: When I was 16, I had a little paper route that I worked and I saved up maybe $2,000. And so I remember going with my dad to a shop where they refurbished cars after accidents and I remember clear as day it was a white 1988 Buick Skylark. It was a cool white car with a cassette player for only $2,000. It had been in an accident so my dad asked me if I was sure I wanted to buy it and I said, ‘heck yeah I want it.’ Subsequently it was stolen. I had that car all through college and in the fall semester of my Pitt graduate program I had it parked in Oakland for class and when I came back it was gone. I laughed thinking ‘where did I park my car’, but it was stolen. The city ultimately found it and it turns out someone took a screwdriver and tore up the ignition to get the car started. That was the death of the Buick Skylark.


Q: What is the most rewarding topic for you to teach?


A: I’m going to go with stoichiometry. When I get to it I think about what the students have learned up until that point; they had to learn how to write formulas, balance equations, and do unit conversions. To me, it’s like a culmination of everything we learned up until that point in the year. The two kids who needed help had light bulbs going off within minutes. You could see them climbing the mountain, they were struggling, but by the end of it they figured it out which is the best. 


Q: If you have a free night to yourself what are you doing? 


A: In the summer I’ll either be going to a Pirate game or I’ll be sitting in a recliner and falling asleep by seven o’clock watching the game. I love it.


“The Obvious Child” album cover

Q: What’s a song that changed your life when you first listened to it?


A: Paul Simon released a song called The Obvious Child right around the time I was graduating high school. It tells the story of how you look back at this husband and wife who got married and had this son called the obvious child who would do only good things. I remember the drum beat of the song being awesome and it’s just all around an amazing song. It would be a great song for the marching band to play. 


Q: What would you want your last meal to be?


A: Without a doubt my last meal would be a good Pittsburgh steak salad. If I go to a restaurant I automatically check to see if they have a good steak salad. I’ve got a whole spectrum of places which range from poor to great streak salads. 


Q: Favorite and least favorite place you’ve run a marathon?


A:    Best– It was cool to be in Alaska, and the marathon was run on this straight bike path. We’re running up the path and we look and see this mother moose and baby calf and that was awesome. Back then I had a flip phone so I tried to take a picture and it came out terrible, all you could see was a brown blob. I had never seen a moose. It was awesome. 

Worst– This may be surprising but my least favorite was Hawaii. The sheer amount of work it took to get there, the travel, the layovers, and the race itself was bad. It started at 5 a.m. but there was no shade and it was already insanely humid and hot, and then it only got worse as the sun came up. The weather was so hot you could’ve dropped me off in Florida and told me it was Hawaii and I would believe you. It wasn’t scenic at all since we ran on a major highway the whole time so there were no ocean views to enjoy while running. So yeah, it was a dud. 


Q: What mindset is most important to have when running a marathon?


A: The mindset is ‘I’m not going to win.’ At the Chicago marathon there were 45,000 people at the race, so I was just a speck in the whole scheme of things, and they announced the winner of the marathon while I was at mile 11. The mindset has to be ‘you’re not going to win so just have a good time.’ Go out even slower than you normally do and maybe pick up the pace if you’re feeling good. Slow and steady might not win the race but it will help you survive it.


Q: If you could live somewhere that isn’t Pittsburgh where would you live?


A: I think I’d live somewhere in the west. The few times I’ve visited Colorado were great, it may snow a lot but they have sunshine all the time. Something like 300 out of 365 are sunny and I love it when in the winter the cold nights progress into chilly but sunny days. Places like New Mexico, Colorado and even Utah would be good for that. 


Q: Is proctoring a test as boring as it looks?


A: It is boring, and I hate scoring the tests afterwards, but then again it’s like a little break from teaching. I have caught kids cheating while proctoring a test. I’m not gonna use names but we had a grams to moles conversion test and the kids finished the test and everybody was talking. Here this kid had a hoodie on and the sleeves started sliding down a little bit. It looked like he had a tattoo, so I asked ‘hey do you have a tattoo on your arm’ naively thinking he actually had a tattoo. But upon closer inspection, the tattoo had a formula for converting from grams to moles, so I accidentally caught him cheating. While in the testing center, I caught a few kids cheating where they will have a cellphone between their thighs. They’re sitting there looking down at their lap then they look up at me and now I’m thinking ‘why does this kid keep looking at me’. And then I see his phone and I’m like ‘c’mon man you can’t have your phone out’, and that usually ends things. 


Q: How have students changed from when you started teaching till now?


A: I think the COVID-19 year really brought some kids back in terms of skills. That was the year where I absolutely hated teaching and it was not the way it should be. Students and teachers need to have connections and so these daily connections are finally recovering four years after the pandemic which is a good thing. From an Honors Chemistry perspective, math skills aren’t where they should be and it’s probably due to the trickle down effect from students missing their important years of math education when they were in elementary or middle school. Those kids are behind the 8-ball and it’s my responsibility to catch them up. 


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