Mr. Frank Ward — True Class for 45 Years!

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Vince Wolfram, Staff Reporter

Simply incredible.  That sums up the 45 years Mr. Frank Ward has dedicated to Trinity High School.  A teacher since 1976, Mr. Ward H’01 has served as chair of the Humanities and English departments, led accreditation steering committees, and served as Director of the Advanced Program.  He has also taught in the Governor’s Scholars Program for more than 20 years. A published author, Mr. Ward is a member of the Teacher Advisory Board of Actors Theatre of Louisville. These accomplishments merely scratch the surface of Mr. Ward’s accomplishments and contributions to education. A consummate teacher, Mr. Ward has helped thousands of students become better writers and thinkers. He answered a few questions about his remarkable career.

Q: What motivated you to become a teacher?

A: When I was in high school, there were several teachers, one in particular when I was a senior, who really kind of turned me on to literature — not just reading, but to really looking at the wider world of reading. To my understanding, I believe that teacher is still teaching over at the school I attended.

That was certainly part of it. It just seemed like a natural fit and something I really wanted to do. That was my motivation. Going into college I wanted to become a teacher, and then once I got to college, become a teacher and write as well.

Trinity teacher Mr. Frank Ward

Q: What about Trinity High School made you want to teach here and why? 

A: I came out of a background of private Catholic high schools. I was kind of hoping to go back and teach at the school that I had graduated from, much like many of the current teachers at Trinity, and when I got my teaching degree, I put in an application that wasn’t accepted. I put out a blanket set of invitation applications to all the Catholic high schools in the area, and Trinity called me.

This was, I think, the first of August, and a teacher had just announced that they weren’t going to come back in the fall. And Fr. (Thomas) Duerr, who was principal then, wanted to get the position covered. My application was sitting there from the spring. So, he gave me a call, and that’s where it started.

Q: Why did you decide to become the Advanced Program director? 

A: That’s an interesting story that goes back to the period of time when Peter Flaig was principal. At that time, I was curriculum coordinator. Peter and I were both looking at what struck us at the time as a real drop in the number of students we were getting for the Advanced Program. It wasn’t huge, but we weren’t getting as many as we had in the past. 

I have to say that I’ve really loved the dedication that we have to our students.”

We decided at that point that we needed to give the Advanced Program students more emphasis. So, we decided to break it out as a separate program somewhat similar to the Traditional Program, which had been around for years. As we were putting it together and looking for a director, it just occurred to me that with my familiarity with the issues and goals that we have for the program, why not just put my hat in the ring.

I wasn’t the only candidate who put in an application. But Peter decided at that point he wanted me to step in and develop the program under the kind of guidelines and directions and goals we had set.

Q: What aspect of English do you enjoy teaching the most and why? 

A: My love has always been primarily literature. I enjoy writing, I enjoy reading fiction. I really enjoy trying to get people to understand the mechanics behind writing fiction. I think it gives you a greater appreciation of the role of the artist in that situation. So I’ve always appreciated showing people how the magic trick works.

We can all read fiction, and then we take a look at it, and we appreciate it as a whole. Maybe we don’t really understand how it works. So I really enjoy that part of it.

The other thing I really enjoy teaching is research. I really like the challenge of showing people how to look at material and how to look at how they’re making their own judgments about things — helping them recognize that there’s a logical process at work that we need to be thinking about it in terms of what is a good source of information? Where should we be getting our information? How do we judge the quality of our information?

In the last decade or so that has become as important as anything else I teach. I think we’re living in a world today, where we’re kind of overwhelmed by information. It seems so contradictory. This person says this thing, someone else says the opposite. Who are we to trust? Who are we to listen to? And I think in teaching research, I can help people learn that process, get those tests for their own reasoning, looking at sources and materials and being able to judge what’s valid and what isn’t.

In today’s day and age, that’s probably one of the most valuable things I do as a teacher — help people get a basis for the kinds of reasoning they do and for evaluating the evidence and the material that they come in contact with.

Q: What has it been like teaching classes via Microsoft Teams? 

A: A challenge at best. I’ve had to be in quarantine all this year, and I’m one of four teachers who have been teaching completely from home. It’s a challenging medium.

I have told a lot of people I think one of the fundamental drawbacks to teaching online is this medium really kind of makes everything literally two dimensional. I think internet users treat that screen like someone coming up on it and talking about material, like a podcast.

Teaching online, inherently, can be a one-way process. It’s very easy to diminish student participation. I found that to be a real challenge — how do you get people to have a discussion about material online? How do you get them to respond?

It’s easy in class. You raise your hand, and it seems like a minor thing. But if you want to have a comment, you have to reach over and hit a button, and turn your mic on, and then speak. I think that’s a problem, just the idea of the process.

Online teaching creates a casual quality that can work against good instruction. I think some guys honestly approach this as kind of get up five minutes before class, grab your device and snuggle back up in your bed, and turn your camera off and just listen.

I just think this is a difficult medium for participation, for a two-way conversation about subject matter. I think it really requires teachers, all of us, to try to increase that involvement and (decrease) that natural inclination for students to look at this as a passive environment and get it to be beyond that.

Q: Since you joined the Governor’s Scholars Program faculty in 2000, what has been your favorite experience? 

A: Well, I have to say the thing I love about Governor’s Scholars, in one sense, is an ideal teaching environment. In a normal classroom, you have some people in the room who are enthusiastic and want to be there, some people who are just there because they have to be. Some people are there because being in the classroom means that they can do other things that are important to them, activities of one kind or another that require them.  That’s all just normal classroom situations.

I think the thing with Governor’s Scholars, though, nobody’s in the program who didn’t choose to be, and that makes life a lot easier. Number two, I get to teach a subject the way I want, without concerns about grades, about evaluations.

One of the things I’ve always found least appealing about teaching is grading. I think it’s a necessary evil on one level, but I think grades often pull us away from learning. I think students become so focused on what’s the number I’ve got? Not what am I learning from this?

In Governor’s Scholars we present the material and say, “Hey, here it is, let’s talk about it. Let’s see what you can walk away with from these five weeks of exposure to literary study or to astronomy or to whatever.” I think that makes an incredible difference in terms of people’s willingness to get involved.

Rousseau back in the Enlightenment pointed out that the human mind was a blank sheet of paper, and that to go out into life and experience things is the best way to learn. With GSP for five weeks, you can be a writer for five weeks. You’re not making a commitment for your whole lifetime.

Q: As a published writer, what is your favorite genre?

A: I’ve always been a science fiction person. This goes all the way back to my childhood. I can remember being in middle school starting to read Jules Verne and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” By the time I was in middle school and reading that, I just got very caught up in science fiction. I still love it today.

When I was a kid, there really wasn’t much of what we call today “young adult literature.” If you wanted to read science fiction, you read stuff that was written for an adult audience; the presumption was always that was an adult audience. I think I loved the challenge of it. I still do.

This past summer, I didn’t work at GSP for the first time in 20 years, so I’ve gotten back into writing. I haven’t been able to do much during the school year, as usual, but I am getting a few stories out. And I’m hoping, frankly, after my retirement this spring, that I’ll get back into it and start writing pretty consistently. So that’s my favorite genre, and I probably will stick to it — though I have noticed I’m starting to do more things that are more mainstream types of work.

Q: Why did you become a member of the Actors Theatre of Louisville Teacher Advisory Board? 

A: I became a member of the Actors Theatre Advisory Board through an accident, so to speak. I guess it would go back probably 20 years. They put together a professional development activity around some plays that were being done for the Humana Festival. These were original plays. At that time, Actors was doing a thing called “Classics in Context.”

They were asking writers to adapt classic plays or classic works. It sounded really interesting. It was over several days, as I remember, and when we got finished with that, I had made a number of contacts. When they opened up the advisory board, they were looking for people. They sent out a notice to people who had been to the workshops and so forth.

I always loved theater but didn’t really know much about it. So I volunteered, and I was with them all the way up through last year.

The current artistic director came on right as the pandemic hit. The season got canceled. Since that point, we really haven’t been terribly active.

It’s been great to be able to meet so many of the actors, meet so many of the directors, be a part of and be aware of how a company like this operates, a lot of which I never knew before I got involved.

Q: In your 45 years at Trinity, is there a production from the Trinity Department of Theatre Arts that is most memorable? 

A:  The Trinity theater opened with a production of “1776.” That was the big musical that year, and I was just kind of blown away.

The other one that always sticks in my mind is a Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter show in what was then the Little Theater, up on the top of Trinity Hall on the third floor. The theater itself was a classroom that was converted.

In those days, they did small productions. Seeing some of the students I had in class perform, I still remember those shows. They are the early ones. There have just been so many good shows.

All the shows have stuck out. With Ms. Reedy’s shows, I’ve been really impressed with the theatrical component of it — just the stage craft that she’s managed to pull off. I thought particularly “The Three Musketeers” struck me as a really neat example of theater craft.

Q: What do you love most about Trinity? 

A: I have to say, it’s the people I work with. It’s the environment. I’m certainly a person who’s known to say, “Hey, let’s take a look at what we’re not doing well.” But I have to say that I’ve really loved the dedication that we have to our students. The dedication. The staff. And honestly, the thing I love is just, and I’ve missed it really this year, that one on one with people. Young people. That I miss a great deal. That in-person, in-classroom environment, but that’s probably the two things I love the most. I’ll probably miss the most the good friends I’ve worked with, students who are young and energetic — and kind of keep me that way.