The Wilson Beacon

10 things I learned when I sat down with Dee Ward

Photo courtesy of Jamie Stewart-Aday

Jamie Stewart-Aday

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Within the first 10 minutes of Financial Planning with Dee Ward, I knew the course was not going to be like my other classes. After a few weeks, I started a note on my phone dedicated to all the interesting things Ward would say in class. This note includes everything from quotes like “who thought it was a good idea to invent the bong,” and “you’re a shame to the Pisces zodiac sign,” to fun facts, like how Ward likes to spray kids with water from a spray bottle if they fight outside of her classroom.

As the semester ended, so did my Financial Planning class. But I knew I couldn’t let that be the last time I talked to Ward. So I went back to discover all the things in her life that I hadn’t learned in class. Here are my biggest takeaways.

  1. She was born and raised in DC, and has no complaints

Ward grew up in Northwest, DC, where she can remember nothing but good things. “I absolutely loved growing up in DC,” said Ward. Of all the things that can make DC a great place to live, for Ward, the environment was the most important. “I lived in a community that was a community,” she said.

  1. She was not taught about finance as a child

Although she would eventually devote her career to teaching young people how to handle money, this subject was absent from Ward’s childhood education. “I wish someone would have taught me about investing money when I was in high school,” said Ward. This longing for financial literacy drove Ward to pursue the job she holds today. “I always hear ‘what hurts you should become your passion’, and [not being taught how to manage money] hurt me.”

  1. Growing up, she did not want to be a teacher

Young Ward saw a lot of possible career paths, but teaching was not one of them. “Initially, I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician,” said Ward, “Then I realized that I would have to take blood, and that wasn’t going to work.” She then decided she wanted to do something business-oriented, and someone suggested accounting. While she studied accounting for a while, it was eventually taken off the table because Ward realized that she “couldn’t sit behind a desk all day.”

Throughout Ward’s youth, the only person that foresaw her becoming a teacher was her mother. “My mother told me I should become a math teacher, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with teaching. Imagine that,” she explained.

  1. She has three college degrees

Coming out of high school with good grades and a strong intellect, Ward had a lot of options. She initially planned to attend Penn State, but decided not to because of the financial burden. “What I didn’t want was a lot of loans,” said Ward. So instead, Ward attended Virginia State, followed by UDC to get her master’s in business education, and then George Washington University. Although it was a difficult choice to attend Virginia State over Penn State, Ward is very happy with the decision she made.

  1. The lessons she learned in college influence her teaching

Ward learned a lot in college. “I learned how to work under pressure…I learned that you need to meet deadlines.” and she also came to understand that “parenting is different in every household.” But the most valuable thing Ward learned was the importance of punctuality: “I think the most important thing I learned was to be on time and turn your work in on time,” said Ward. These lessons are the reason Ward does not accept late work in any of her classes.

  1. She taught at School Without Walls for 17 years

While the schools are separated by less than five miles, Walls and Wilson seemed to be worlds apart for Ward. “I thought when I first came here that I had walked into the jungle,” said Ward.

The biggest surprise came for Ward when she first assigned homework. “The first time I gave a homework assignment, and two people did it, I was in shock,” she recalled. The environment when Ward arrived was so disorganized that she would describe herself as a FONZ, “friend of the National Zoo.”

  1. She loves Wilson students, but believes they have one major flaw

“I love the Wilson students… you guys are bright, forward-thinking, you have an opinion, all of those things. You are intellectually sound,” said Ward. But there is one thing that any student of Ward’s knows she canno’t stand about Wilson students. “You are lazy as that word I try not to say,” she said.

Nowhere is this laziness more evident to Ward than in one particular project that she assigns her financial planning students. The assignment requires students to go to a bank and collect information, and usually receives a tremendous amount of resistance from students. “That push back wasn’t about that you couldn’t do it, that push back was about you didn’t want to because you were being lazy,” said Ward.

 

  1. She lost her husband to cancer, and it was one of the “coolest” things that has happened to her

For most people, the diagnosis of stage four colon cancer in a loved one brings a period filled with grief and sadness. But when the doctor told Ward and her husband “this is going to take him out, but not today,” they decided together that while they couldn’t do anything to change it, they could “live each day like it was [their] last,” Ward recounted. “We had so much fun…we started hanging out more, going to enjoy more things, spent a lot of time at the beach, we just had a lot of fun. We laughed at everything, at most people. And we did not let it stop us from living just because we knew that his life was coming to an end.”

The best example of this positive attitude was the planning of Ward’s husband’s funeral. “He planned his own funeral, and he was sending out invitations,” described Ward. Her husband was even able “to do a video recording and he basically eulogized himself.”

  1. Her bark is worse than her bite, but she does bite

“I have a bad reputation I think, I think that’s good actually,” said Ward, who knows that her no-nonsense teaching style can rub some students the wrong way. But Ward wants these students to know that “[her] bark probably is worse than [her] bite, but [she does] bite”. Overall, Ward says she “care[s] about [Wilson students] a whole lot more than they would think”.

  1. She plans to retire in 2020, but that could change

Since she started teaching, Ward has had multiple opportunities to leave the field. “I tried to walk away three times,” said Ward, but each time something kept her teaching. Another one of these chances is coming up in 2020, and Ward is faced with another difficult decision. “The plan is to retire in 2020, it might alter,” she said.

Although some may think Ward is leaving because she is tired of Wilson students, this could not be further from the truth. “It’s not about the kids,” said Ward, “The school system itself though, it’s a lot of pressure… sometimes it’s annoying.”

But Ward acknowledges that leaving is easier said than done. “It’s different when you go away for the summer and you know you’re coming back in September.”

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