There’s a line in a song from “The King and I” that Judy Rickard likes to reference. It says if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.
That’s just one of the lessons the 70-year-old Carrolltown resident will take with her post-retirement after 20 years of teaching chemistry at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School.
“You learn from your students. They really teach you a lot,” said the Cambria Heights High School graduate. “New teachers need to keep that in mind.”
Rickard graduated from Alvernia University, where she majored in chemistry with a minor in secondary education. She went on to obtain her master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Scranton.
She began her career at a high school in Levittown, Bucks County, teaching chemistry and physics, but returned to the area in 1994 to teach at Bishop Carroll.
As she looks back over her two-decadelong career at the school, Rickard said it will be the students she’ll miss the most.
“They are so friendly, and they respect the teachers here,” she said.
What has brought her the most joy is when a student who had been struggling finally understood a concept.
“You can see they’re having a hard time and really working at it, but when they get what you’re trying to teach them, it’s a good feeling,” Rickard said.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the job has been the numerous letters she’s received over the years from present and former students thanking her for guidance.
One former student wrote that a lot of teachers merely do what is required of them as part of their job, but Rickard does so much more, and that’s what makes her a great teacher.
“When they’ll quote something back to you that you’ve said, you know you are making an impression,” she said. “It means a lot to me to know that I’ve helped.”
Rickard has even received letters from professors at St. Francis University and Juniata College telling her how well she has prepared her students for college classes.
David Maruca, a 2014 graduate, said Rickard genuinely cares for every student and goes above and beyond for all of them.
“I feel truly prepared for college. I’m majoring in the science/medical field after having her as a chemistry teacher,” he said. “She is extremely organized and takes the time to ensure we understand the material she is teaching. She comes up with fun ways to remember items taught and is an all-around good teacher and good Christian.”
Rickard has won numerous teaching awards over the years, including the Altoona-Johns-town Catholic School Teachers Association’s Teacher of the Year Award in 2004, and the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh Kevin Burns Award for Excellence in Teaching of Science Award in 2004, but it’s the ones from her students that mean the most.
In 2001 and 2010, the senior classes voted her the school’s teacher of the year.
“It’s very nice to get these from the students,” she said.
Joe Skura, Bishop Carroll’s director of athletics and public relations, said Rickard is loved by students, faculty, staff and the whole community.
“Her genuine concern for all of us has made our school a better place,” he said. “She has always been diligent and professional in all she does, particularly paying extra attention to detail at all times.”
Skura added that she was kind and patient with students, caring and helpful to faculty and staff and a pillar in the education community for many years.
“When you need good, sound advice, you go to Judy,” he said. “I feel blessed and proud to have been able to work in the same school as her for years.
“We will miss her dearly as she retires, but I am happy she will get to enjoy life.”
Rickard’s advice to all teachers is to stay current with educational studies, specifically ones that focus on the brain and how people learn.
“Not everyone learns the same way. Some students grasp things quickly, and with others, it takes a while,” she said. “You have to adjust because each class is different. You have to teach to where they are.”
And as for what retirement will bring, Rickard said she’s looking forward to spending time her family, traveling, reading and working in her garden.
“I decided when I had 20 years in here I’d retire,” she said. “Now I’m looking forward to doing things I didn’t have time to do before.”
Kelly Urban is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/KellyUrban25.