Melissa Camilleri of Compliment: TGBTS Featured Teacher

Teachers.

Don’t you just love them?

I know I do.

There are those that inspire me and those that make me laugh. Some help me solve problems in my classroom and others that help me solve problems in my life.

I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite teachers here.

Teachers in studios, classrooms and in the world at large. These are the folks you will see featured in my series of teacher interviews here at Teacher Goes Back to School.

I hope you enjoy these teachers as much as I do!

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Have you met Melissa? She’s the creator of Compliment – a handmade jewelry company with a big heart – and a former high school AVID teacher.

tgbts featured teacher melissa

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You taught English/AVID until really recently- tell me about your experience. What brought you to teaching and then what made you want to change professions?

I really didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to be when I was in college.  I changed my major to English at the suggestion of a professor who recognized my knack for writing.  But upon graduation, I went into PR.  It wasn’t very long before I realized I hated it.

My favorite day of the week was Monday, though, because after work, I met up with a friend and taught a teen youth group for 8th graders at our church.  I loved designing curriculum, but more, my passion was ignited for making a positive difference.  

Within a couple of months, I applied for my credential program.  Teaching was natural.  Working with kids was something I couldn’t believe I got paid to do.  I loved it.  I  knew I was making a difference.  I student taught under an AVID Coordinator, and quickly learned that AVID was exactly why I got into teaching, although I didn’t know that then.  

To be a mentor in a kid’s life, especially when they are in high school and starting to make big important decisions for their lives–it was a calling.  The community I intentionally built-in my classroom year after year was magical. I had students from all different groups on campus coming together, cheering each other on, and really caring for one another.  

My happiest moments of my life are the times in my classroom where my students showed unbelievable amounts of humanity toward one another– the time when one girl crumpled up her prepared speech and decided to really share her heart to the class, hands trembling, and the boy in the second row stood up mid-speech and walked up to her to stand by her side and give her the courage to keep talking.  When she finished, the whole classroom stood up and gave her a group hug.  Meanwhile, I’m in the back of the room weeping at the transformation happening before my eyes: gangly, awkward teenagers  turning into beautiful, loving, compassionate adults.

I believe in kids.  I believe in education as the key to changing the world and saving our democracy.  But I also believe in keeping your own love tank full.  I gave and gave and gave and gave and saw hundreds of kids succeed from the amount of love manifested in my classroom.  

But they system wore me out.  I’m not the first to declare that there’s a lot wrong with public education system and in very general terms, it was the system, not the kids, that eventually emptied my tank.  I dreamed big, did ALL OF THE THINGS, and still got told no A LOT.  When I finally decided to take a break from the classroom, it was after TONS and TONS of soul-searching and re-identifying myself.

I was in the midst of a perfect storm: a divorce, and the death of three family members within 90 days shook me so hard, I had to learn to be ok with still being a teacher at heart, just taking a breather from the classroom.  I know that if there’s not enough for me to give the amount I know is necessary to be the kind of teacher I want to be to affect the kinds of kids I want to affect, then I need to do something else for a second.   

How did you make the move from ass kicking high school teacher to jewelry maker/compliment giver?

I started my jewelry company in 2011 while I was still in the classroom.  I’ve always had the spiritual gift of encouragement and I think it’s one of the things that comes super naturally to me and allowed me to be as effective as I was in the classroom. It is very easy for me to zero in on the best aspects of someone and encourage those things.  I love holding that metaphorical mirror in front of someone until they see the beauty in themselves.  That’s really the concept behind the brand– providing the opportunity for others to recognize the beauty within themselves or the people closest to them.

The jewelry aspect of the brand is pretty simple. I’ve always been pretty crafty and have always loved making jewelry.  A few of my girlfrends and I started making the rings you see on the website, simply as a way to accessorize ourselves!  Pure vanity!  :)  I kept going back to the bead store to buy new materials to make a ring to match every outfit I wore to school.  Then one day, one of my cutie seniors asked me to make her one that matched her beautiful green Homecoming dress.  Once word got out, I had twenty orders by the end of the week.  Two months later, I launched the brand with the website and the philanthropic component of the Compliment Scholarship, which directly benefits young women with a high potential of success from non-traditional college-going backgrounds.

Where do you find your inspiration? Who is your ideal client and what is your ideal work?

I know it sounds super dorky and very English teacher-y of me, but I find inspiration in words.  Song lyrics, poetry, a beautiful turn of phrase in the books strewn about my apartment.  I am inspired by fonts and signage and quirky or witty advertisements. I’m inspired by blank pages and pens that write smoothly and old typewriters, and the clicking of computer keys. I love love love words.

I’m also inspired by colors and good food and vintage fashions from the 40s-60s.

My ideal client is a woman who is on the spiritual journey of learning how to better love herself and others. She understands that my brand is equal parts fashion and affirmation and loves showering the women close to her with love.  She’s a little quirky, very positive, compassionate, and hungry to make the world a prettier place to be.

What are your Top 5 self-care must do’s?

Great question!  When the perfect storm I mentioned above went down, I needed so much inspiration to learn how to better take care of myself, so I started a series on my own blog called the Compliment Soul Care Series where I ask women I admire who are doing awesome things in this world to share with me their tips with me! So some of the things I list are things these beautiful women have taught me and also some that I’ve learned along the way.

Self-care Tip #1 – Forgive.

Self-care Tip #2 – Meditate,

Self-care Tip #3 – Eat healthy.

Self-care Tip #4 – Dance.

Self-care Tip #5 – Read.

How do you manage working from home without driving yourself bonkers?

I’m still learning, but I’ve adjusted by creating systems and schedules for things.  I put alarms in my phones on busy days to help remind me to move from one task to the next.  Since my work requires me to use a lot of space to make my creations, I’ve had to get accustomed to a constant amount of disarray, but I try to keep it to one localized surface, instead of a little bit in every room (which is my normal tendency).

I make work dates with other entrepreneurs I’ve met.  We brainstorm and bounce ideas off one another, meet up for lunch or a coffee and collaborate and plan.  I’m no where near perfect with all this, and in fact, I’d like to put it out into the universe that I’d love to open up my own studio/retail space in town (preferably within walking distance of my place) just so I don’t have to use a dresser in my hall closet for my shipping supplies or my dining room table for my own personal sweat shop.   So, do you hear that, Universe?  STUDIO SPACE!  WOO HOO!

Do you have a yoga practice? What about meditation/quiet contemplation?

I wish I could say yes to the first one. I used to.  I used to be awesome at keeping the commitment to myself to practice yoga four times a week. I’ve fallen away from that in the last few months and know I need to get back to it because it made me feel so good.  I really have no excuse as to why I haven’t gone to a new studio since I moved into my current living situation.  I just need to start again.

I do have a meditation practice.  I’m new to it, so again, it’s not as consistent as I want it to be, but it’s getting there.  I use the guided meditation recordings from Brother Camillus Chavez who is a Christian Brother at my alma mater (Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California).  I’ve done a couple of his meditation retreats and I leave feeling renewed and clear and connected to God.

You write a lot. How do you produce so much engaging content? What’s your writing secret?

Nothing fancy here.  I have an editorial calendar that I keep in a binder.  I try to stick to it.

I often have writing dates with other bloggers where we just sit together and churn out content, so we don’t feel so isolated behind our computers.  It fulfills a social need while doing something kind of anti-social, plus gives me a scheduled time carved into my calendar so I know I have to write.

I got my MFA in Creative Writing a few years ago and had to get used to turning out tons and tons and tons of content quickly.  That was great training.  I’d love to say that with practice it gets easier, but for me it doesn’t.  I never FEEL like writing.  I just have to do it.  I sit down and start click-clacking the keys and pray that what ends up on the screen isn’t total junk.

How do you manage stress of running a successful small business, teaching teachers/professional development and an active social/travel life?

To be honest, because I’m making my own schedule now, I feel SO much less stressed than I used to.  I am able to work super early in the mornings, in spurts when I’m waiting to get my oil changed, late at night after dinner with the girls, or whenever I can fit it in. I write a lot on airplanes and in hotel rooms.

My friend Caroline at Milou and Olin and HelloXOXO introduced me to Basecamp, a program that helps me organize all my to-do’s for all my different projects.  I have a really cute calendar with little dividers for my ongoing list people I need to email or call back or projects I’m working on.

I’m lucky, because my business, for the most part, is fairly portable.  So if I’m gone on a professional development gig and I have to get an order out, I can pack my jewelry making stuff and bring it with me.

How do you handle self-doubt?

I see an awesome counselor. :)  I write affirmations to myself and hang them in prominent places around my work-space. I pray.  I meditate. I practice gratitude.  I turn up Beyonce or Kelly Clarkson in my car, open my sun roof and sing really loud.

How do you maintain your optimistic outlook?

I read A LOT about people who have broken out of their status quo and succeeded. I love a good come-up story.  I tell myself over and over “There’s no reason that can’t be me.”  I try to surround myself with people who are positive and supportive.  Again, I practice gratitude.  I believe in abundance.

Do you have any questions or comments for Melissa?

Are you a rock star teacher (or know one)? Would you like to be a TGBTS Featured Teacher? Send me a message or leave me comment here.

2 thoughts on “Melissa Camilleri of Compliment: TGBTS Featured Teacher

  1. Melissa is one of the greatest teachers that I have ever had and inspires me to be a great teacher everyday, seeing that I now teach 3rd Grade Literacy in Denver, CO. She inspires me to change lives just how she changed mine through the AVID program.

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