Bilingual Urbana teacher credits College of Education for his ‘worldly’ growth

by Sarah Fitzpatrick  /   Jan 17, 2014

news item picture

Greg Ballweg in his classroomGiven that English is his first language, one might expect teacher Greg Ballweg ’13 Elem. Ed. to take a job where his students primarily spoke English as well. But Ballweg’s third-grade classroom is different: His students all speak Spanish as their first language.

Ballweg was offered this unique teaching opportunity after graduation at Leal Elementary School in Urbana, where he instructs classes entirely in Spanish.

“The amazing dual-language, bilingual program that Leal offers for students drew me in,” Ballweg said. “The cultural and academic benefits of this program are incredible.”

Greg Ballweg in his classroomLeal Elementary offers many different programs to accommodate the diversity of its students. Pupils in kindergarten through second grade learn together, whether English or Spanish is their first language. Starting in third grade, the students spend 60 percent of their day learning in Spanish and 40 percent studying in English. Ballweg said students benefit from this program, and he learns his share of things throughout the day also.

“Spanish is my second language,” said Ballweg. “There are always opportunities for me to learn the social and academic aspects of the language.”

Greg Ballweg in his classroomWithout his degree from the College of Education, however, Ballweg said he would not be the person or the teacher he is today. He was provided many opportunities to teach in schools that reflect a diverse U.S. society.

Ballweg was uncertain when asked who his favorite professor was during his time at the University of Illinois.

“How could you ask such a question?” he responded playfully. “Honestly, most of my professors helped me to grow a little bit in different ways. The College of Education helped me become a more worldly person and offered fresh perspectives and new ideas on how to teach and grow as a person.”

Ballweg credits a class he took during his sophomore year as a pivotal tool in pushing him toward bilingual education. His former professor, Christina DeNicolo, was influential in opening his eyes to the possibilities in bilingual education programs.

Greg Ballweg in his classroomAs he molds the minds of young students, Ballweg said he is proud of his career and engaged with his environment.

“I chose a very meaningful and influential career,” Ballweg said. “If I were to give advice to future educators, I would tell them they will use a lot of the strategies they learned through the college, but they should always remember that teachers are model learners and can always improve. Be open to advice, especially from the students—they notice everything!”