12 Dec Denver Waldorf Teacher Spotlight – Nathan Ballenger
When students at The Denver Waldorf School are asked what they love about their education, they often comment that they treasure their close relationships with teachers. They are full of gratitude to be surrounded by caring, dedicated and inspiring teachers.
Our Teacher Spotlight series highlights a new teacher each month. This month, let’s get to know Nathan Ballenger.
What grades and subjects do you teach?
STEAM and Math: 6th grade through 8th grade.
Circus Club: 2nd grade through 8th grade.
What is your educational background?
I have a BS from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. I majored in Biology, minored in Chemistry and Psychology. I am also a Certified Energy Auditor.
What were the next stops on your journey prior to coming to The Denver Waldorf School?
I lived in India and traveled throughout the world before, during and after college. My travel and global community were deeply impactful of my journey. I have been to the home of the Dalai Lama, to the Old City of Jerusalem, to the jungles of the Quichua people in Ecuador and Peru, to the jungles of Chiapas and to Copper Canyon where the Tarahumara reside. I have hiked the Himalayas, the Andes and the Rockies. I traveled with a circus troupe in Ecuador doing acrobalance and clowning, as well as performed in circus on the streets of Delhi. All of these experiences have greatly contributed to who I am today.
My first job out of undergraduate school was as an air quality specialist for La Plata County in collaboration with the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division. I also sat on the Four Corners Ozone Task Force executive board, and worked directly with the Southern Ute Tribe emissions testing.
I then taught at Mancos Valley Independent School, a Waldorf school, as a 3rd grade co-teacher, Spanish teacher and games teacher.
I also owned and operated two companies- NRG By Design and Second Harvest Builders. NRG By Design provides services in energy efficiency auditing, analysis, design and construction. Second Harvest Builders is a custom home builder specializing in natural and alternative building techniques such as straw-bale construction, natural clay and lime plasters, reclaimed materials and conventional building practices.
Finally, I worked as a search-engine marketing consultant as well as at Tesla in solar design and consulting.
How many years have you taught at The Denver Waldorf School?
This will be my third year teaching, and my second year at The Denver Waldorf School. I also sat on the Mountain Phoenix Community School governing board for three years.
What drew you to the Waldorf curriculum?
I co-taught with Marian Barton at the Mancos Valley Independent School from 2004-2005. This experience influenced my entire parenting experience, and has been a part of my life ever since. My wife is a certified Waldorf teacher and Early Childhood Specialist. Waldorf curriculum and anthroposophy have been a big influence on my worldview for about 15 years.
What is your teaching philosophy and approach?
My number one goal is to generate enthusiasm and interest in all of my students for the subject matter, for learning and for life. This requires knowing each of my students individually, as well as knowing my class as a community. Each class is unique and requires different methods and creativity in the ways you approach teaching.
Middle school is a time when the children are beginning to look out into the world, in a way, for the first time. Prior to middle school, the children are focused inward, to their own self, their immediate community and family. In middle school, this shifts, and the children begin to look out toward their teachers, their peers and the world around them with interest and curiosity. This usually involves testing, trying things out, using different forms of communication etc. I try every day to pay special attention to what the children are seeking, asking for and excited about. This is ever-changing and shifts with the individuals and nature of the class.
As a teacher, my focus is to be flexible within that change, and to teach to the class in front of me at that moment. Not to teach to the class last week, or the class I think we should have. Middle school requires flexibility, creativity and an open mind. All of that said, I have an agenda including includes goals and expected outcomes. As the teacher, I show up well-prepared and ready to accomplish my goals with the class in order to prepare them for maximizing their own potential in academics and in life. I try to give them all the tools and experience I can muster while making sure they feel supported, loved and encouraged.
The Waldorf philosophy of education focuses on the whole child. What does this mean to you?
The whole child in short is the head, the heart and the hands. As a Waldorf teacher, we learn to understand what is developmentally appropriate for children in each phase and year of their growth and development. Teaching to the whole child means that learning involves a lot more than just memory. Not only do children learn differently as they grow, but each of them also learns differently through various methods of teaching. Experiencing the sensation of sawing wood with a fine-tooth saw and a large-tooth saw teaches a relationship with wood and tools in a way that words and pictures cannot reproduce. Some children learn well through hearing, some through seeing, some through experiencing and some through expressing.
Teaching the whole child means that we are using all of these methods with purpose. To teach to the whole child, I use multiple techniques, and I also pay special attention to what each child is going through and needing as they grow. Getting to know the students is learning about the whole child that I must teach to. This takes time, effort and mediation daily.
What makes The Denver Waldorf School unique?
The Denver Waldorf School is full of history. The faculty brings decades upon decades of experience. This rich soil of experience provides a deeply enriching environment for both students and new teachers who are fortunate enough to find their home at DWS. Our school is the product of this faculty experience as well as of many DWS families stretching back 45 years in the Denver area. I witness this wealth of history and experience in every faculty meeting, in the hallways we all pass through, and in the children who are impacted by it all. DWS is a special place because of the spirit of all who have been here and of all who are here today.
Pictured in the new STEAM classroom