Ward’s appreciation of diversity helps her become a kind, inspiring teacher

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photo courtesy of Mrs. Ashley Ward

Mr. and Mrs. Ward celebrate diversity on all paths of life.

By Leyla Vilic, Oakville High School

Long before she stood in front of eager high school students as a teacher of literature and language, Mrs. Ashley Ward was severely bullied.

Once perceived as a shy and introverted person, Mrs. Ward never really fit in as a child. She was the type of kid who would count down the days left of summer break so she could return to school and continue feeding her passion for learning and teaching.

“I changed schools between my sophomore and junior year and I ended up going to a very, very small private school where everybody knew each other and I didn’t know anybody,” said Ward. “I was teased a lot. I was called derogatory names and they were directly related to being gay.”

Though Ward is not gay and has never come out as gay, she was constantly ridiculed because her classmates chose not to accept and tolerate her differences.

The world is not only one set of beliefs.”

— Mrs. Ashley Ward

“I feel like I kind of share a little bit about that experience that our LGBTQ+ youth go through because I was bullied for a lot of the same reasons and I wasn’t even gay,” she explained. “It gave me a new appreciation for the life that they live and for the struggles that they go through. It really opened my eyes to have first-hand experience about how cruel kids can be to anything they don’t understand or don’t have a lot of experience with.”

Her past has motivated the teacher to constantly be a warm and friendly figure to her students and to be someone that they can rely on. Her experience also drove her to be a large part of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at OHS.

“We’re open to everyone, not just the LGBTQ+,” Ward said. “We talk about issues that are being faced in Oakville’s communities and around the whole world. We are sort of a place for the kids to be themselves with no judgement and shame, and to check in on how they are doing because some don’t have support at home.”

Ward has learned to embrace her differences and tries to spread this acceptance throughout both the school and community. Diversity is very important to the compassionate teacher, and she tries to reinforce the beauty and significance of diversity. She loves different cultures and beliefs, and is always enthusiastic about learning about the different kinds of people that “make the world such a beautiful and unique place” according to Ward.

“What’s not to love? I love that we’re all so different and that we all have different likes, dislikes, and beliefs that make this country so wonderful and this world so beautiful,” said Ward.

Ward tries to bring diversity into her classroom by presenting a diverse array of authors including women, people of color, various socioeconomic statuses, and writers who go through difficult experiences. Ward believes that diversity is an important part of life in general because it’s not fair to hear only one perspective, which is often perceived as very narrow-minded.

“The world is not only one set of beliefs,” she stressed.

What’s not to love? I love that we’re all so different and that we all have different likes, dislikes, and beliefs that make this country so wonderful and this world so beautiful”

— Mrs. Ashley Ward

Ward’s own life is always filled with diversity, both at school and at home. Her students often come from homes and backgrounds that are not similar to the one she grew up in, and she is always curious and wanting to learn about their beliefs and experiences. Her husband also grew up in a very different part of St. Louis with a different set of beliefs, and Ward is continuously discovering something new about how he grew up.

“My husband was raised in a very different household than I was,” said Ward. “He’s Black and I’m Caucasian, and we had very different cultural experiences growing up so it’s interesting for us to talk about the different experiences we had as kids. So even within my own household, we have a lot of diversity with experiences, family, and food. I love diversity.”

Combining her devotion to school and her mission to promote the importance of kindness, Ward decided to become a high school teacher. She’s involved in GSA, and also is a facilitator for the Book Club that seniors Katie Seithel and Vicky Riordan started. Ward thinks it’s amazing that students “share her passion for the written word,” and loves watching kids read and analyze books with the same excitement as she.

Mrs. Ward was not only heavily influenced by her experiences, but by loving and attentive people involved in her life as well. Her great uncle Dr. Al Burr was a principal in the Parkway School district, and she really credits him with inspiring her to always be curious and to always ask questions.

“When I was a little kid, we would go off into a corner and just talk about school,” Ward said. “He asked me what my favorite subject was as a kid and instead of saying something silly like recess or lunch, I would say reading or spelling. He’d always want to chat about school and I credit him with inspiring my curiosity.”

An incredibly kind and inspiring teacher and person, Mrs. Ward appreciates diversity and her own past experiences that made her grow into the person she is today. She uses her awareness to influence students who are going through similar struggles.

“My big goal is, whether kids come to me about GSA or something with their personal or school life, to be someone who listens to kids without judgment and letting them know that I still care about them and that I still want the best for them and their futures,” Ward said. “I just want to be their cheerleader on the sidelines.”

This story was originally published on The Prowl on November 19, 2020.