It is our absolute pleasure to introduce you to Nathan (of @mrvandermonde on Instagram) as our Term 2 #TeacherFeature.
Nathan is a learning specialist, plant and dog-loving, grade two Primary Teacher living in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges. When he’s not teaching his students, he’s a busy dad and husband, who creates hilariously engaging reels to inspire, encourage and advocate for his growing online teaching community (check out his #DanceForSickKids moves!!)
Nathan has been a long time supporter of RO and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with him about his career highlights (and mishaps), his creative pursuits and his gorgeous pup, Tully.
RO: Tell us a little bit about yourself?
NATHAN: I am a deeply philosophical, creative, outgoing, and passionate educator and learner who has been teaching for over 12 years. I grew up in South Eastern Melbourne in an underprivileged area and school was always a haven for me, which I believe was the impetus for me to go on and study Education at Monash University later on.
I started my career teaching at a secondary level, predominantly Year 11 and 12 English, but have taught all levels of high school including Year 7 and 8 High Achievers English, Years 7-10 Humanities, and Year 9 and 10 Darkroom Photography (which I love and did all the way through to Year 12).
I believe that education and a thirst for knowledge is the key to success in everything you do. Whether that be the formalised education system that I now am heavily involved in, or through autodidactic learning. I am currently a leading teacher at a primary school, and absolutely love my job, especially teaching in the classroom.
I live in the Yarra Ranges area of Melbourne which is nestled in between the beautiful Dandenong Ranges and the Yarra Valley wine region. Not complaining! I’m an avid reader, amateur painter, fervent gardener, and enjoy fossicking about in antique shops for vintage finds. I love a good beer or G&T, so I’m spoilt for choice out where we are and love visiting new breweries and distilleries.
RO: As a full time teacher, how did you find the time and inspiration to start Mr Van Der Monde social media accounts and create all of these wonderful resources for other teachers?
NATHAN: I’ve always valued the teaching community and I thought being a part of an online version would be both fun and helpful. Since starting my Instagram account I have been rewarded with supportive colleagues from all over the world, a plethora of teaching ideas and classroom hacks, and many good friends. I have had so many wonderful collaboration and educational opportunities including being involved in a TV commercial for a Victorian teacher recruitment campaign!
My attention and enthusiasm comes in waves, as life can get busy with two children under four. However, I always find that the online community is a space for me to be inspired, encouraged, listened to, and where I can better advocate and share the thoughts and feelings of teachers everywhere, which is rewarding.
RO: What do you find most rewarding about being in education?
NATHAN: Seeing the very real impact you have on others’ lives. You get to positively influence so many young people, connecting with their families and the community, and making a real difference. Very few vocations allow you to impact so many people in such a personal way. I love that I can bring my passion for reading and literature, plants, history, nature, and art to young people. I can offer them a different perspective or interest that may become part of their identity as they grow up. Also, it is so satisfying to watch and track a student's growth, seeing them master new understanding and skills.
RO: We would love to hear a funny story from your career, what is one of your favourite stories about all the kids you have taught?
NATHAN: I taught at secondary school for six years before going into primary. In my first year I had several classes of Year 9 and 10 English and Humanities. In one class I had really challenging behaviour, so I used lots of engaging PowerPoints and interactive lessons to keep them engaged as much as humanly possible.
On this particular day I had the projector on the desk plugged into the wall behind it. My laptop was charging and there was a plethora of cables going to and from each piece of technology. It was an old room, and I’d also filled a whiteboard with notes for them to copy or refer to.
As I get into the lesson, I’m gesturing wildly and paying no attention to where I’m putting my feet. So I step through the knot of cables between the desk and the wall. I realise my error, attempt to step backwards out of the labyrinthine cords, only to hook another one on the front of my foot.
Now I’m panicking and students are smirking, as I try one more time to extract my feet.
It’s a mess.
I’m completely tied up, and lose my balance, falling forwards.
In desperation I reach out for the only thing within distance (a perfectly smooth whiteboard). I wipe a significant amount of notes off the board as I fall inelegantly to the floor, feet still tied together.
My last ditch effort of recovering whatever shred of dignity I had, was to grip onto those the metal edge at the bottom of the whiteboard. I successfully grabbed them, flipped myself around to face the ceiling, and promptly snapped them off hitting myself in the face!
The class erupted into hysterical laughter! Literally throwing themselves out of their chairs and writhing on the floor. I completely lost control of the class for the remainder of the lesson, and students left that day with tears of laughter in their eyes and a searing memory of “Mr V making an absolute fool of himself”.
The moral is, if I can recover from this and ultimately get control of the learning environment, you can literally recover from anything!!
RO: That is GOLD Nathan! If only we could have been there to see it!! Seriously though (other than this EXCELLENT teaching moment) if you could only teach your students one skill or life lesson, what would it be?
NATHAN: I would wish for all students to know that they were only limited by their own beliefs about themselves and the world around them.
RO: Tell us something we’d never guess about you?
NATHAN: Something people often don’t realise about me is that I am also a deeply spiritual person. I read obsessively about different spiritual belief structures and love researching the history of various spiritual systems throughout human history.
It is such a fascinating subject. I believe that faith in mathematically improbable events is as much of a leap of faith, as faith in a scientifically unprovable spiritual belief.
People often see “Science and Religion” as non-compatible or mutually exclusive, but Science supports so much of what religion purports, and various spiritual beliefs give insights into ancient understanding of these matters eg. consciousness, the soul, the beginning of time and space, the origins of life from lifeless matter etc.
I don’t profess to have gnostic understanding, but I just love having an open, soft-gaze as I learn from those that came before me.
RO: We bet you've had a lot of time since the events of 2020 to be more introspective and spiritual!
RO: With the introduction of remote learning, what did you find the most challenging about adapting to teaching your students from your home (apart from looking after your own two of course)? Can you also tell us about a win during this time?
NATHAN: This was a horrendous time for teachers, particularly in areas where lockdowns and school closures went for long periods of time - like here in Melbourne. Students were home more than they were onsite at school, students’ emotional wellness took a huge hit, motivation levels dribbled down to almost non existent, and teachers were balancing home life, work life, the inability to teach and assess properly, their own children’s learning at home. Coupled with the barrage of parent communication - some of which came from a place of fear and was very demoralising and hurtful.
However, despite this, there were some huge wins. Overall, schools became more connected to their parent community. And when they listened and sought feedback, they were able to cater for parents and students, building an environment of respect and support. Teachers adapted quickly (as we knew they would) and brought rich learning online. They showed up, kept smiling, and carried the emotional worry of their classes. Teachers learnt new IT skills, built websites and made vlogs. There was a lot of learning happening, despite the challenge!
RO: As you may know, many of us here at RO have kids at school....and honestly, we think teachers are just super special humans. Remote learning was a huge (and often thankless) undertaking and that’s why we are thrilled to share your story with our community.
What are the top three things, or 'rules' you choose to live by?
1 - The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. That’s a good thing!
2 - Every day is the best day of your life.
3 - There are no obstacles, only the path.
We're taking a leaf out of Nathan’s book and implementing the above rules, stat! Finally, as a long time supporter of Ruby Olive, what pieces are you loving at the moment?
NATHAN: Ruby Olive makes so many colourful and fun pieces, and I have a few favourites. My top pick is my Monstera Lanyard, which I wear all the time. I am known for having a classroom jungle of sorts, full to the brim with indoor plants, so the Monstera Lanyard suits both me and my teaching environment perfectly.
I also love a good puzzle with a glass of beer at the dining table, and the RO x Brook Gossen Rainbow Room Puzzle is a brilliant one! I am also a massive dog lover (sorry cat people) and my gorgeous, Kelpie cross, Tully loves her Licorice Dog Collar and Leash. People always comment on it, and I think she loves the attention.
Thanks so much for chatting with us Nathan, it has been an absolute pleasure.
Find out how you can connect with Nathan and download his resources below!