University Community

University community mourns Early Childhood Education Professor Emeritus Joan McMath

The Ohio University community mourns the passing of Early Childhood Education Emeritus Professor Joan McMath on Feb. 11, 2023. Dr. McMath was a passionate educator who dedicated her life to improving the quality of education for young children. Throughout her career, she inspired countless students and fellow faculty to become compassionate, effective teachers and was an advocate for the power of children’s literature. Her contributions to the field of early childhood education will continue to impact generations to come.

Dr. McMath began her distinguished tenure at Ohio University’s College of Education in 1988. Over her tenure she was recognized for her outstanding teaching and bestowed the University Professor Award in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006. She retired in June of 2014 and received Emeritus status later that year.

As a University Professor Award candidate, Dr. McMath defined her personal teaching philosophy and how she saw her role in that process.

“I believe students want to learn, want to be excited about what they learn and want to be engaged in how they learn. My role is to facilitate this within a learning community where civil discourse, mutual respect and scholarly inquiry occur. Within this community of learners should be a teacher with a knowledge of and passion for her discipline. This teacher should facilitate thinking and talking about issues, ask questions to stimulate both convergent and divergent thinking and provide frequent oral and written feedback. Students can experiment with ideas because trust is palpable, and trial and success are valued. Students can explore, discover, invent, and synthesize as they engage in deep learning.”

The Patton College’s Director of the Center for Clinical Practice in Education, Marcy Keifer Kennedy, reflected on McMath’s infectious enthusiasm. 

“Dr. McMath’s impact on me not only informed my work with young children as an early childhood educator but also significantly informed the type of teacher educator that I strived to be to my students at Ohio University,” she said. “Her ability to instill a passion and love for children’s literature into her university students while also helping them to understand and utilize the many contributions that children’s literature can have on learning across the curriculum was absolutely outstanding.”

Many Patton College faculty admired McMath’s earnest, benevolent nature towards her students, faculty and others.

“Dr. McMath’s calm demeanor provided a welcoming presence felt by faculty and students alike. She unselfishly shared her passion for literacy instruction and inspired many during her successful career at Ohio University,” said Patton College Teacher Education Professor Dianne Gut-Zippert.

“Joan was the person whom I deeply admired as a professor, colleague, mentor and friend. She was gentle, kind, fair, generous, wise, caring, and, most of all, genuine,” said Associate Professor Jeesun Jung.

On two occasions, Dr. McMath was pivotal in developing new undergraduate curriculum. The first occurred when she helped create a new undergraduate curriculum in Early Childhood prompted by the Ohio Department of Education mandated changes in teacher licensure laws. The second opportunity came when she co-chaired the accreditation process for the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Council for the Association of Teacher Education.

Dr. McMath has been published numerous times in scholarly journals including Young Children from the NAEYC, Early Childhood Education Journal, Day Care and Early Education, Science and Children, The International Journal of the Book, and others.

In describing her teaching philosophy, Dr. McMath also included an astute observation about how best to approach the time she had to positively impact a student’s education.

“The average life span in months is 1,020. I may share class with students for only three of those months. If I consider that brief period of time as a fine painting to hang on the walls of their minds, I should, to paraphrase Betsy Hearn and Martin Amis, campaign against clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”
Dr. McMath’s legacy will live on through the many students she taught, the colleagues she collaborated with, and the incalculable contributions she made to the field of early childhood education. 

April 6, 2023
Staff reports