Please allow us to introduce the incredibly talented and lovely Reagan Tunstall. Reagan’s been teaching 1st grade for over 18 years and continues to find passion in her work. Read about how she keeps it all in balance and how her parents taught her to be both organized and creative (spoiler alert: Reagan’s mom was a teacher, too).
1. Reagan, you are incredibly creative. It shows on both your blog and the pictures you share of your classroom. Where do you get your design chops from and the inspiration to create such a welcoming atmosphere? Any tips for newbies?
Thank you! I owe my creativity to my parents. My mother and father are both creative people, in their own ways.
My mom has always had her hand in every classroom theme and design of mine. She has handled every manipulative and piece of paper right alongside me! My mom was a senior English teacher for 30 years, so growing up, I spent time in her classroom. I knew then that her classroom was innovative and organized beyond what I was seeing in my own classes in school. Classmates would tell me how much they loved my mom and her amazing classroom. Mom and I would find joy in creating bulletin boards together, and now classroom design continues to be one of my joys in life. Every spring, we start our design discussions and they carry through the summer months until August when we finally get a chance to make it happen! My mom was not only a well- loved teacher, but is also gifted in organization and design.
My father owned a graphic design and printing business. When I wasn’t in a classroom, I was in a graphic design printing environment. My father’s walls were covered with award-winning layouts, photography, and prints. When I would walk in to the business from school, the smell of the ink and the sound of the machines felt like home. One of my prized possessions is the desk that he had from his business. It’s the desk I use in my home office now for creating teaching materials.
As far as tips for newbies: when just starting out, I think functional layout is key. Many times what I think will work in a classroom doesn’t. Nothing ruins a perfectly decorated room like dysfunction! It’s best to find what layout works and then use that as the springboard. Create spaces and atmosphere by tying colors together and creating uniformity and an organized structure.
The same goes for creating teaching products! I try to be sure that the packets are functional for the teacher. If I find myself using something over and over, then I know it’s a great fit for sharing on TpT. Appealing products develop by tying together colors, fonts, and clip art that work well together and make sense with your product’s topic.
2. It’s hard to believe you have teens! You look like a teen yourself. How do you juggle all that you do (teaching, being a mom and wife, creating TpT resources, doing workshops)?
Ha! If I only knew the answer to that one! It didn’t happen overnight… I would never have said yes to all of it at once! Each component that I’ve taken on has been a small addition to what has grown over time.
Marriage and teaching have been my focus for just shy of two decades. I married a month before my first year of teaching. It’s all we have ever known.
Being a veteran teacher of 18 years, I love that I know what it feels like on the 10th day of the school year vs. the 110th day of the school year. This insight makes it possible for me to steer this ship; taking on what are truly the best of the “fads,” discarding those that don’t work, and keeping the ship on course. Marriage, family, and teaching have been a developmental process of their own — evolving with the needs of the time.
Becoming a mom rocked my world and I took time off of teaching when my kids were born until about the age of three. Since then, we’ve all been in the school pattern and it has just been a part of my kids’ lives as it was for me. Now that I have teens, I have opportunities when TpT is actually easier to manage and other times when the after-school scheduling of extracurricular activities makes it impossible.
It’s hard to be at home working on a TpT product without being pulled in many directions. It doesn’t appear that I am “at work” but what a privilege it is to be able to create while still being home with my family. Just don’t ask me what’s for dinner when I’ve just entered the creative zone on a new product, and all will be OK…
As far as blogging, creating, and workshops go, they have brought the passion of teaching back into my life! The demands of teaching were outweighing the joys and I was losing my passion, interest, and creativity.
Realizing that I could take on new levels of teaching by sharing and collaborating with teachers beyond my building brought excitement back into my own classroom. Being able to share the best of what was happening in my classroom fueled my desire to be a better teacher. I also wanted to give back to my own school district. Becoming a teacher leader in my district has helped me grow tremendously. Knowing that I need to exemplify the best of teaching is a huge responsibility. I have been blessed to network with incredibly talented and passionate teachers in my district.
Taking on workshops is like blogging out loud! Seeing and interacting with teachers across the country in real-time is an absolute thrill. Teachers spend the majority of their lives within one room surrounded by children. We crave that adult interaction and collaboration, but oftentimes our specialties keep us from it! Blogging, Teachers Pay Teachers, and workshops round out the full teaching picture for me.
3. How did you first become involved on TpT, and what have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Teacher-Author?
In 2009, I had started a class blog for sharing pictures with parents. One day a few months later, I checked the stats to see if any parents were reading the blog. I realized that instead of the 20 or so views I was hoping for, my blog was getting views in the thousands. I was completely taken aback and to be honest, more than a little freaked out. I realized that this little blog of mine was being viewed by teachers, too. They were leaving comments about my classroom and what was in the background of my pictures. I was shocked and amazed that other teachers liked my room and the activities that we were doing. The thought of other teachers being interested in my classroom had never entered my mind. This was a pivotal moment for me. It fueled my passion overnight! I changed the title and content of that parent blog into a teaching blog (I still have the same URL today as my little parent news blog!). From there, I found other teacher bloggers and Teachers Pay Teachers!
The most rewarding aspect of being a Teacher-Author is the network of teachers it has brought together. It can be difficult to begin as a Teacher-Author because you’re putting your ideas and beliefs out there for the teaching world to see. It’s a vulnerable feeling. When you receive that feedback from another teacher saying that a product you created was helpful, it’s heartwarming and validating. I received an email from a teacher in the Middle East sharing that she’d given her students a packet of mine because there had been a bombing near her school and students could not return to the classroom for two weeks. She told me that my product was fun yet challenging and that it had saved her sanity while providing just what her students needed during a very tough time in their lives. That email has stayed with me for years.
4. How has TpT affected your life most?
Teachers Pay Teachers has completely changed my life. Our family was going through some difficult times leading up to when I discovered Teachers Pay Teachers. My husband had a medical issue that caused him to be unable to work for two years. My teaching salary was not nearly enough to sustain us after living with two incomes our entire lives together. Our bills and debt increased month by month. It was a dark and dismal time in our lives. I was anxious about our future, to say the very least. I would pray myself to sleep, cry myself to school, and immerse myself in teaching because it was the happiest part of my day. I would forget all my problems while I was in my classroom because it is so consuming and demanding. It truly saved me.
We had hit rock bottom in 2011 and put our house up for sale. With my teaching salary only, we could no longer stay afloat with the mortgage. We were devastated because this was our forever home. I put my first product on Teachers Pay Teachers in August of 2011. My salary wasn’t able to provide the life we wanted but there was a glimmer of hope in Teachers Pay Teachers. I made $5 my first week on TpT. I was ecstatic. I felt like I could do something about our situation while also sharing my life’s passion.
Shortly after, my husband was able to return to work and we no longer had to sell our house. The money I made on Teachers Pay Teachers brought us out of that debt and has provided for our family. There are no words to describe how thankful I am for TpT. I cried out to God to help us for two years. Looking back, I can see how going through such a devastating time created the passion, need, and timing of the discovery of Teachers Pay Teachers.
5. What are your three favorite products and why?
Over the last year, I created an interactive monthly math journal for my 1st graders. It’s become a staple in my teaching day. I feel that it provides a very necessary component to our guided math block.
Another series that I am thrilled to be a part of is iPad Essentials. I had the opportunity to come together with Cristina Popescu, a brilliant colleague of mine, to create this series. I feel that this product helps teachers with less experience in technology bring meaningful lessons to the classroom; seamlessly integrating learning standards, the 4 C’s, and a high level of student engagement!
I also refer to daily to my guided math workshop posters (they’re free!). They provide the backbone and the structure to our daily routine.
Wowzers! What a powerhouse of kindness and creativity. Reagan, thank you for allowing us a peek into your life, and thank you for such inspiring and honest answers!