STLCC-Meramec Professor Kelly Ballard teaches outside of the box
By: DALILA KAHVEDZIC
Art & Life Editor
Ballard has been teaching at Meramec since 2000 and graduated as a math major from Mizzou and philosophy and religious studies from Washington University. Ballard now teaches math and philosophy full time at Meramec.
“I didn’t know that I could do it until I started it and then I realized that people need help. You know, they struggle. And apparently my way of saying things and my personality either puts you at ease to try or makes it clear for you to understand,” said Ballard.
Philosophy and math go hand in hand. Whether a question has a very analytical or a very philosophical response, it is the curiosity in the questions we ask.
“A lot of times I don’t come back with answers, most of my students would say the same thing, I can’t get the dang answer but that’s life right? It’s the quest of it that I love,” Ballard said. “If I’m looking for ‘x’ or if I’m looking for the nature of the universe, isn’t it about the same? I mean it’s the unknown isn’t it?”
Ballard’s favorite part about teaching is making her life valuable.
“If I only take and I don’t really give back I realize that when I can help a student be successful, when they can move on in their goals and I was there along the way, then I did something that makes my life fine,” Ballard said. “I think our problem that we have right now is that we don’t take care of each other, we don’t care about the other more than we should. What I worry for in society is how we have our stereotypes and misunderstandings. When you put a stereotype, misunderstanding and ignorance together that’s dangerous.”
The toughest problem Ballard faces in teaching is when her students have problems outside of her content and it affects them academically.
“When you’re in physical danger, when you’re unhealthy, when you’ve been abused, school becomes a secondary thing. You see this person struggling with trying to do the student side but their personal lives are just completely out of control,” Ballard said. “I struggle with that because I worry for people.”
Another problem Ballard faces in teaching is wanting her students to succeed, sometimes more than they want it for themselves.
“Even though I might want it more for the students, the students’ responsibility is to go after their education. So, I can stand on my head and I could bring in a circus, I could bring in all kinds of tricks and stuff just to try to capture them but if they don’t want it – you have to accept that sometimes you want it more than the student and that you have to let it go, Wu-Wei,” Ballard said.
Wu-Wei is a concept in Taoism of action without action, a sense of going with the flow.
There are always students who take Ballard’s courses for the credit and take nothing else from it.
Ballard said her most memorable teaching moments would include students coming back and inviting her to the next stages of their lives, such as graduation or marriage.
“Those students who are just like ‘give me my grade I gotta get outta here’ – it’s okay because there’s plenty of professors that I didn’t need to see ever again but then there’s those ones that you connect with, those are like the best moments for me. Because I want to know they’re okay after this moment,” Ballard said.
Ballard has no favorite religion to teach in her world religion’s course.
“If I had a favorite one I shouldn’t be teaching the class,” Ballard said. “Do I have a better grasp on one more than the other? Some days. I even grow in my connection to the content the more that I read about it, the more that I want to discuss it. When you ask me questions in class it activates something in me so it’s always a give and take but you can’t have a favorite,” Ballard said.
In her courses, Ballard offers to take students on field trips.
“We should always be outside of a textbook. There’s an academic way to experience life and then there’s a visceral way of experiencing life and learning. I also want to make parts of St. Louis less scary for people, that they feel comfortable or brave enough to go somewhere that’s not familiar to them,” Ballard said.
Ballard has traveled to many various places including Turkey, Syria, Russia, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, India, Spain – the list goes on. Many places showed different levels of beauty, but also of poverty.
“Every place, you know, for me I fell in love with it because I saw in it what made it beautiful,” Ballard said. “In each country, it can be the people that I meet or the beautiful buildings and temples or signature architecture, or it could be even the food, but there’s always something that basically touches my heart. There’s always something that makes me so thankful that I went. I’ve never regretted a trip.”
Traveling is enriching for Ballard.
“I go to these other places to meet myself,” Ballard said. “Even though I read about them, I talk to people, it’s not the same unless you’re there.”
Ballard suggests that students do their research before they go on a trip, including customs.
“Allow for the unknown. You have to roll with it, you have to expect that something is going to fall apart or fall through and you can’t let it be the end of your travel but you have to educate yourself before you go somewhere,” Ballard said. “Not every place is here, you can’t expect it to be where you are right now but there’s still value in it.”
If students want Chesterfield, stay in Chesterfield, said Ballard. If students are going to go to India, they have to take in everything India has to offer, Ballard said.
Traveling is always a moving experience but can sometimes call for danger as well. It is very easy to get scammed in another country, so safety first, she said. Ballard said she was in an uncomfortable situation once where she was not robbed of her money, but more so scammed.
“My grandmother would say that maybe he needed it more and that’s why it happened that way,” Ballard said.
Ballard said she does not have one specific favorite travel destination.
“When life is rich there is not only one,” Ballard said. “A rich life is not only just one thing it’s lots, lots of beautiful things.”