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Teacher and DIYer Kelly-Anne Rush tackles all the projects

There’s a common thread running through the many creative and fascinating ways Kelly-Anne Rush spends her time—they all have to do with teaching.

She’s a teacher through and through, whether she’s at her “real job” as a social studies teacher at Windham High School or blogging about a thrift store dresser makeover project or talking to colleagues about teaching financial literacy.

The 8,816 and counting people who follow Rush on Instagram (@craftyteacherlady) know at least some of her pursuits by her description: “HS teacher, Mainer, Style Seeker, Renovator, Decorator, Blogger … Creative endeavors of all sorts…”

And there are more fans at www.craftyteacherlady.com, Rush’s increasingly popular blog, where she writes about her own ongoing projects, like making toss pillows out of trendy placemats and a DIY closet door jewelry organizer, as well as DIY gift ideas, sewing projects and home decor. Some of her posts have generated more than 250,000 hits, including a review of an IKEA sofa (Do its cushions go flat? Are the covers easy to swap out?) “Apparently, people want to know all about the Ektorp sofa!” Rush says, laughing.

More than 4,000 people keep track of her adventures on Pinterest, and, though she doesn’t devote much attention to Facebook, she’s got 1,000-plus followers there, too.

Kelly-Anne Rush’s Windham home is filled with projects she’s tackled over the years, like this painted pallet sign. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

Rush says she’s amazed by how her initially simple intentions have led to such interest. She started her blog in 2007 to document improvements on her first home—a condo in Windham—and an audience has been steadily building since, as she’s flipped a couple of homes in rapid succession (she spends her summers on such projects) and broadened the blog’s subject matter.

“When I started, only family and friends were reading the blog. I was just doing it for my own purposes. And then I expanded it to include a section about my career and connecting with other teachers,” she says.

The advent of Pinterest in 2010 further expanded her reach. “It definitely helped my reader base. It drew a lot of interest to the blog. And same with Instagram,” she says.

“It’s all been just a great way to connect with people who share the same interests, whether it’s teaching, DIY or crafts. But sometimes it is kind of surreal,” Rush says. “It really shows the power of the internet, doesn’t it? I mean, my life is just me teaching and then hanging out in my garage painting stuff.”

“It’s satisfying to know that people have found inspiration for beautifying their lives from what I’ve been doing,” she says. And she’s equally appreciative of the fellow teachers who follow her on social media and read her blog posts about teaching, which cover everything from “Advice on Becoming a New Teacher” and “If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on my First Day of Teaching” to lesson ideas, classroom organization tips and classroom DIY projects. “I love hearing from new teachers who say I was helpful. That feels really good,” she says. “A lot of young teachers don’t get much encouragement, and it can be hard. I like being able to remind them that all those negative things people are saying can be true, but you also get to teach someone something they didn’t know. And you get to laugh a lot on the job!”

The DIY closet door jewelry organizer is one of the tutorials on the Crafty Teacher Lady blog. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

Rush gushes when talking about her chosen profession—she clearly loves teaching social studies, world history, personal finance and civics at Windham High.

“I am a more patient person because I’m a teacher. I’m a more educated and well-rounded person because I’m a teacher. I’m a lot more open-minded and less judgmental because I’m a teacher. I’ve had such a variety of wonderful students.”

Rush, 36, says she definitely has had strong creative influences in her life, teaching her along the way, too. Growing up in Windham, where she still lives—she good-humoredly calls herself a townie—she watched her seamstress grandmother repurpose leather coats from salvage stores into cozy leather mittens. She saw her grandfather figure out how to build an elevator in his storage shed and her jack-of-all trades plumber father being handy in myriad ways. But the standout influence was and is her mother, Hélène Rush.

“I had a lot of great influences, but particularly my mom. She’s always been a creative and driven person. Even when she was a stay-at-home mom, she was making knitting patterns. She’s owned a yarn company, written knitting and crocheting books and recently taught herself to be a painter.”

These family members and her own experiences have taught her that a little creativity and tenacity can go a long way.

“I’ve realized there’s not really a task I can’t complete. I like to tell my students that there are only tasks you can’t complete yet, until you have the knowledge and you try it. You just have to figure it out.”

For example?

“Well … I’d been wanting to change my door hardware at home for six months, and I was dragging my feet and thinking it was too complicated. I thought about hiring somebody to do it. And then one day I said to myself, ‘You haven’t even tried it! How hard could it be?’ So I checked YouTube and figured it out.

“I’d never used a nail gun before…and I’d never used a circular saw until I tried it. And if I can do it, anyone else can do it! My advice would be pick one thing you want to try, and do it. It’s not always going to be pretty. But then you just try it again. Just build your skills over time, one at a time.”

Patricia McCarthy is a long-time writer and editor. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).

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