WT: 29 years at Waters, that’s really something! Have you taught anywhere else?
Mrs. Ballasch: I did my student teaching just north of here at Clinton Elementary School, but that’s it!
Wow. Do you have a favorite grade to teach?
Definitely Middle School! The students are becoming independent and are really developing their identities at this age. I love seeing students problem solve, think for themselves and begin to determine their influence on the world around them. They are full of curiosity and have a wonderful sense of humor.
What was your own elementary school experience like?
I am actually a CPS graduate! I went to Smyser Grade School and Steinmetz High School. I am from the Waters area originally, but grew up in and still live in Portage Park. My dad actually went to Waters (class of 1953) and my parents were married across the street. My grandparents remained in the area, so Lincoln Square & North Center have always been a part of my life. Just like my dad and my students, I grew up playing along the riverbank trail and at the playground at Horner Park.
So cool that your dad went to Waters! Have you always wanted to be a teacher?
When I was little, that was all I wanted to be! My grandparents gave me a small chalkboard and I would hold “school” with all of my stuffed animals lined up in rows. In fact, my grandmother is the one who originally encouraged me to be a teacher—and she saved for years to pay for my college tuition. I miss her immensely, but she will always be a part of who I am. As most kids do, I changed my career plans numerous times while growing up. At one point I wanted to be an archaeologist just like Indiana Jones, and I spent most of high school planning to go into graphic design. But by the time I entered college, I had returned to my first career choice of teaching. It really is the best job for me because it allows me to incorporate my many interests.
Speaking of interests, what do you like to do when you're not teaching?
I love photography! I love being able to capture the way light plays off an object, the way colors work together or being able to focus on details that we often miss in the business of life. And I love nature. If I had a day with nothing to do, I’d like to sit by a lake somewhere, listen to the water, and read a book or nap.
Sounds dreamy. So if you could take your students on a field trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
This is a hard one! Can I give you three? The Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef because they are so quickly changing and Yellowstone National Park, because it is a pretty awesome place!
What about outer space? If NASA asked you to teach from space for 2 years, would you do it?
Probably not. I am quite partial to our beautiful Earth! However, I think teaching from either an oceanic research ship or under the ocean would be pretty cool.
It really would be. Is there anything else your students would be surprised to learn about you?
They already know I have a lot of pets, but my dream is to own goats!
How many pets is a lot?
A LOT a lot. We call our house The Ballasch Zoo. Currently we have 4 lovable mutts, 2 Siamese cats, 2 fancy rats, 3 frogs, 1 newt, 2 Russian tortoises, 1 box turtle, 1 Red-eared slider, 2 snails and a lot of fish! Some of the animals we have owned in the past have included multiple ferrets, poison dart frogs, a bearded dragon, crested geckos and even a Giant African Millipede! Before the pandemic, you could always find a small variety of these in my classroom as well. I can't wait to bring them back!
That is a lot—you weren’t kidding! Aside from the animals, what’s the one thing you’d want your students to remember about their time in your class?
I would hope they would remember the lessons learned, the activities we did, and the smiles we shared. But the one thing I would want them to remember is how valued they are as human beings.