We asked alums, alum parents, current parents, former teachers, and more what makes SWS special. The overwhelming response was our community. The teachers and staff who welcome new families with open arms. The teachers who lovingly shape the lives and minds of our students. The parents who find friendship and camaraderie in their parenting journeys. The students who make lifelong friendships. The festivals and community events. Our campus tucked away along the Susquehanna River in beautiful Marietta. What makes our school by the river special is our community. In honor of this, we will be interviewing members of our incredible community. Class teacher and alum parent, Melissa McIntyre, graciously agreed to start us off and the timing worked out perfectly, as January marked her 20-year anniversary of being a teacher at SWS!

How long have you been teaching at SWS and what class are you currently teaching?

I just found out that it is exactly twenty years this month! I was hired as a kindergarten teacher in January 2003. It’s flown by! This is my third time teaching 4th grade. I taught kindergarten for a couple of years and then there was a rising 4th grade that needed a teacher. My background was mostly in elementary education so I jumped in. That was my first class. I took them through 8th grade and then I went back around, took a class 1st through 8th grade and they graduated in 2019. I started with this class and now we’re in 4th grade. They’ll graduate in 2027.

What led you to Waldorf education?

We were a family down in Orlando, FL, we had three boys, and our oldest was starting 1st grade. He went to this lovely little public school that my husband was teaching at but he had 15 minutes of recess and 40 minutes of homework as a 1st grader. My shining, bright guy was becoming stressed out. A friend of mine said (she was from PA), “Melissa, you’re Waldorf-inclined!” At that time, 20-plus years ago, there were only Waldorf initiatives in Florida and there were none where we lived. My mom lived up here and we decided to make a big move. We visited PA during a December break, Jim had an interview in York city to teach, and we swung by SWS to tour the school. We knew immediately that we were coming here. It was that quick. We wanted this for our boys. I was a parent here for 2 or 3 years before I joined the teaching staff. All 3 boys were blessed to come through the school.

What’s your favorite part of being a teacher at SWS?

I can’t even begin. I think what I love, now that I’ve taken three classes through, is being able to see how each class has such a unique and amazing gift. I have learned from each of them. True gifts. And because each class is so different, I get to be creative all over again. I taught for seven years in public schools and, this was a long time ago, but it was pretty structured and I was only able to be creative in pockets. You know what you’re teaching with the structure and curriculum that’s given to us by Waldorf pedagogy, but, most importantly, you’re making sure that you’re meeting the kids in front of you. That form plus the freedom to make sure you’re meeting them is amazing. 

What does it look like to meet your students where they are?

You know, there are times when I have something in mind and I look at them and can tell, “they need to move their math today, they don’t need to write their math.” Keeping it surprising for them. Especially in the winter, it’s really important to keep it fresh in other ways. There have also been numerous times when I’ve brought a lesson and I can sense how it interests them, so I changed the next couple of lessons to keep going in that direction. I make sure I meet all of their curiosities about a topic. 

Another really important part of it is, as a class teacher, I have to keep growing with them. If I was the same 1st-grade teacher that met them this wouldn’t be working. I have to be aware, keep adjusting, and keep them guessing in some ways. 

How has Waldorf education impacted you as a person?

I’m a work in progress. It’s a little bit of a catch-22 because when you’re a teacher and you’re before your students, you have to be so in the moment. And that is a blissful place to be, to be so in the moment, to be so attuned to what is around you. But it’s when you’re by yourself, you can get pulled into, “oh I gotta do this,” or “I gotta do that.” I find that I have to work hard to be in the moment outside of the classroom. That is my striving: balancing. That is what Waldorf has brought to me. And I know, ultimately, that I become a better teacher when I’m truly trying to seek that. It is in the seeking.

As a parent, I’m so thankful. My oldest son went to college and had this realization that he was surrounded by people who were given messages early on that, “Oh, I’m not really a musician,” or “I’m not really artistic” and because of that, his peers, who were very talented, were pigeonholed and they would pigeon hole themselves. Because he came from a Waldorf background where everyone sews, everyone plays an instrument, everyone writes, and everyone’s in the play, he never got that message. He realized the gift for him was that because he experienced it all and everyone did everything, he never saw himself as not being able to try things. I’ve heard that echoed from all three of them. Because they were open to many things, they all landed in areas as adults that they’re really happy with and that they’re excited to go into further. As a parent, seeing that your children are happy in their adult lives with what they’re choosing, I mean, that’s it. Happy people. That’s all you want.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not teaching?

Good books are awesome. They’re an amazing escape. Spending time with my granddaughter. When the weather’s right, we love being outside. Biking and kayaking are biggies. Those are our favorite things: our granddaughter, biking, and kayaking when the weather’s good.

What’s your favorite thing about our school’s community?

So, again, I get so teary about this. With every class’s parent group, there have been gifts that I’ve received. With my colleagues, just knowing that we’re all striving. We have our good days and bad days and knowing that our paths don’t look the same in how we’re striving but having honor and grace in that. When we talk about our professional development, that’s high up on our list, “how are we working on ourselves?” People check their egos here.

Every day I’m just so thankful to come to a place where people are striving to do the best they can as humans working together. And also humans working around children. The parents do it every single day. Every time we come together to talk about their child or the class, everyone comes from their higher selves. That’s just awesome and that’s why the classes are as they are. That’s why the children are humming here because of the adults around them. That is just top-notch. We are here for these kids and the result is just this amazing environment that nurtures and holds these children and they feel it. Every day.