Making Jewelry From Buttons And Bottle Caps : NPR Ed When she's out of the classroom, second-grade teacher Mei-Ling Uliasz creates quirky "upcycled" jewelry.

Making Jewelry From Buttons And Bottle Caps

Necklaces made with old metal protractors, just a few of the "upcycled" jewelry items Mei-Ling Uliasz makes. Courtesy of Mei-Ling Uliasz hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Mei-Ling Uliasz

The NPR Ed team is discovering what teachers do when they're not teaching. Artist? Carpenter? Quidditch player? Explore our Secret Lives of Teachers series.

When she's not teaching second-graders in Connecticut, Mei-Ling Uliasz turns bottle caps and little tin cars and brass protractors and other found objects into whimsical "upcycled" jewelry.

Tell us about your secret life.

Mei-Ling Uliasz in her studio. Courtesy of Mei-Ling Uliasz hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Mei-Ling Uliasz

I have a quirky jewelry business called "Twitch and Whiskers." I create upcycled jewelry between sips of coffee in the morning, on the weekends and during vacations. I not only sell my work online and in shops, but I also travel thousands of miles each year to do indie craft shows all over the Northeast. My secret life started when I took some basic beading classes over the summer with a friend. I was inspired by the techniques taught in class but not by the traditional supplies offered at the shop. It all changed for me when I went home and applied these new skills to my collection of vintage and found objects. This redefined jewelry design for me and helped me to find my voice as an artist.

Which came first? Teaching or making jewelry?

Teaching came first, but I've always been interested in the arts. I have been an elementary school teacher for 15 years and in business for about five.

Do your students know about your secret life?

Yes. I try to reinforce that it's important to explore interests because they can turn into passions. Passions can spark adventures, new opportunities or even a career. I often wear my jewelry to school, and that gives me the opportunity to talk about my creative process and the importance of conservation and reuse.

Do you incorporate your secret life into your teaching? How?

I try to. My biggest push is to show students that there is room for creativity in all areas of the curriculum and in all parts of their lives. Whether it's trying out a new writing craft, solving a math problem in an innovative way, or inventing a game on the playground, I want them to look at the world with fresh eyes.

Why do you teach?

Uliasz says using found objects like those in these necklace pendants helped her find her voice as an artist. Courtesy of Mei-Ling Uliasz hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Mei-Ling Uliasz

I love kids and I couldn't think of a more exciting, fun and rewarding job. I knew from a young age that I wanted to teach because I was surrounded by great teacher role models: my dad and grandfather. I love bringing out the best in my students, and in turn, they bring out the best in me. No two days are alike and each day I'm faced with new discoveries and opportunities to grow. Even on the most challenging of days, I get to be surrounded by laughter ... lots o' laughter. What's not to love about that?

Tell us about the Secret Lives of Teachers — maybe your own or a teacher you know. Or post your own Secret Life on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at #secretteachers. We're on Twitter at @npr_ed. Our Facebook page is here or you can drop us an email at