Veronika Paluch, elementary school teacher and board member of PhilaSoup, did not always know that she wanted to be a teacher.
“I had always worked with kids, I had worked in camps, I [worked as a nanny] all through college – it just didn’t occur to me to think about teaching,” Paluch said.
Paluch attended Temple for both her undergraduate and graduate studies. Her undergraduate degree is in international business and marketing from Fox School of Business.
While still working her old job at Comcast as a Web analyst, Paluch decided to come back to Temple to continue her studies, pursuing a graduate degree in elementary education, the career that she works in now.
“After a couple of months I was like, ‘I don’t want to sit in an office all day with no human interaction.’ I enrolled in the graduate course for elementary education and did that while I worked at Comcast,” Paluch said.
Now, after earning her graduate degree in elementary education, Paluch works at the Alliance for Progress Charter School in North Philadelphia, teaching a class of third graders.
As a new teacher, Paluch was looking for ways to network with other teachers throughout the city to share ideas and knowledge. She then found PhilaSoup, an organization put in place to do just that: create a network for teachers.
“Before I started doing PhilaSoup, it was so hard for me as a new teacher to find teachers from outside of my school,” Paluch said. “There was no group or network or anything I could find, so this was a cool way to just meet and talk to other teachers.”
PhilaSoup, an organization created by two sisters, Claire and Nikka Landau, was started to create an environment for teachers to interact and present their ideas with the possibility of receiving “microgrants” to pursue their ideas for the classroom.
“Nikka was doing something in Detroit and they had something called ‘Soup’ there, but it wasn’t education related, it was arts or community focused,” Paluch said. “[She] saw how her sister, Claire, who was a teacher in Philadelphia, had always done these cool projects, but didn’t necessarily have the funds to complete them. So she said that we should do that in Philadelphia.”
The organization of which Paluch serves as treasurer, has monthly dinner gatherings at different locations throughout the city.
Those who attend the monthly dinners pay $5 for dinner with different soup options, other snacks and wine. Half of the money paid to attend goes toward a pot of money that will be given to one of the presenters from the night.
Each dinner, PhilaSoup has three to five presenters who express their ideas and what they need to achieve in their classroom, and, at the end of the night, all attendees are given the opportunity to vote for who should receive the money pot.
“It’s not really so much of a needs-based thing, like ‘I need pencils or paper,’ it’s more like, ‘We really want to do this author study, and these books would be perfect for what we need to do,’” Paluch said. “One of the people that presented before, they worked at a garden in Germantown, a historic home and garden, and they wanted money to help subsidize a field trip cost, which is such a cool idea.”
With this resource, educators are given the opportunity to not only gather ideas from what other teachers from throughout the city are doing, but also to get the resources they need to pursue their ideas to benefit the students they are teaching.
“It’s really cool, sometimes people will win [more than] $400 for use in their classroom,” Paluch said.
Paluch first joined the organization just to network and meet educators from throughout the city, but now serves as the nonprofit organization’s treasurer.
Despite her background in business and marketing, Paluch said she found the idea of being the treasurer somewhat intimidating.
“In the summer when we became a nonprofit, I took on the role of treasurer, which is funny because I have a business background but have never done a budget bigger than our household budget,” Paluch said. “So I had to do the whole nonprofit budget, which is kind of scary because you’re like incorporated, so what I do now is mostly budgeting and helping to run the dinners and stuff.”
With her position on the board of PhilaSoup and her job teaching a third grade class, Paluch finds that time management is the hardest skill to master in her new work field.
“In all other fields I’ve worked in, at five o’clock your day is done,” Paluch said. “It’s hard to separate teaching from your life. It’s hard because you could totally be done at [3 p.m. or 4 p.m.] if you follow whatever the teacher’s manual says, but if you want something more interesting or different for your kids, you can’t.”
Despite finding it difficult to manage her time as a teacher, Paluch said, she dedicates as much time as necessary to her students and teaching to create a good learning environment.
“You’re with them for eight hours a day, so they’re like your own kids,” Paluch said.
Taylor Farnsworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.