By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 03, 2014 at 5:12 AM

As if teaching all year long wasn’t enough, Melissa Pallin -- who teachers lower elementary (1-3 grades) at Highland Community School and leads a summer learning program, too -- has taken an idea and made it reality in the matter of just a few months.

In April, Pallin hit upon the idea of a space that would support her fellow teachers in a wide variety of ways. By July, her MKE Teacher SPAce was open on the second floor of the Plankinton Arcade in The Shops of Grand Avenue.

The space, formerly home to Daly’s Pen Shop, has been completely made over, with a multi-purpose space that hosts yoga classes and other programming, a massage therapy studio and a hair salon.

Teachers can buy a monthly membership for $16 or a seasonal membership for $50. But Pallin is eager to implement a co-op/barter philosophy, so if a teacher leads a class, the seasonal membership is free.

"Teachers need a space for everything they do outside of the classroom to lesson plan, in addition to relax and rejuvenate," Pallin says. "I did a lot of research and it’s not easy to find all the statistics that half the teachers leave the profession after five years.

"Being set the five-year mark, I thought, I need a space for teachers. Often, agendas are fixed in meetings and teacher input and teacher collaboration and teacher lesson planning isn’t necessarily a part of the school communication and it’s the most important part, you know, the day to day, inspiring teachers day to day."

In addition to providing spiritual and physical well being for teachers of all kinds -- K-12, public, private, university, etc. -- Pallin hopes that MKE Teacher SPAce will fuel collaboration among teachers, idea sharing and discussions that will help improve teachers’ lives and work, which she thinks can only improve students’ lives and work.

"Who better to inspire teachers than other teachers?" says Pallin, who graduated from Carroll University and was a math specialist for two years in Grafton, before arriving at Highland, a Montessori school chartered by MPS, three years ago.

"I was in an excellent teacher program (at Carroll)," she adds, "but then you get sent out and then you never talk to any other teachers ever again. I think it’s one of the reasons teachers leave because they feel isolated. Teachers can come in here and just talk about their day openly, freely, they can get advice, give advice, and they can share knowledge, get knowledge."

In planning the space and the programming, Pallin says she had to look no farther than herself.

"I thought about what makes me my best teacher self and my most creative teacher self. When I take time for myself, my students notice. They also notice if you’re feeling swamped, you know, if you feel bombarded."

It’s hard to imagine the effusive and bright-eyed Pallin feeling bombarded, especially considering her knack for pouring the pressure on herself. Part of that pressure these days comes from fundraising.

Lately, she’s been working on writing grants for her summer program and for Teacher SPAce.

"I’ve been writing a lot of grants. I’m in the beginning stages. I have a board of directors," she says. "It’s not a business. I’m not coming at it from a business perspective. I want to make sure this stays here, in addition to growing Milwaukee teacher spaces."

Pallin designed the space herself, with help from some, wait for it, teacher friends. But she’s also partnering with a range of locally minded businesses to expand the reach of MKE Teacher SPAce.

For example, each of the three Refuge Smoothie Cafes will serve as a neighborhood MKE Teacher SPAce outpost. And, Pallin is embracing her Downtown mall neighbors.

"I heard people say, ‘why would you want to be in the Grand Avenue Mall?’ I think that this space is the best space because it’s in the heart of the city," she says. "It’s centrally located. It’s the Grand Avenue Mall that needs the support and who can help support it better than teachers? We have UWM on seventh floor. ... plus the Y, they’ve been coming in to talk to me and Planet Fitness.

"I like supporting local shops. This isn’t a coffee place, but the coffee place (Stone Creek) is right there. Bucketworks is right there and they’re really supportive. So we’ve had a lot of dialogue."

Pallin notes that Office Max, Stone Creek, Planet Fitness and other mall businesses have offered discounts and things like free drink coupons to MKE Teacher SPAce members.

"There’s so much love that teachers have for children and the city," she says. "It’s like harnessing all that energy and unleashing it, just letting teachers realize they’re not isolated, they’re a part of this big force that really can change the city."

"There are a lot of businesses who want to support teachers. I just want to share all the places that want to support teachers with teachers." 

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.