Teacher Spotlight



Tamara Opalek was named the 2018 1st Place K-5 Winner for the Out-of-the-Box Category at last May’s Governor’s Award Program For Excellence in Teaching Economics program. Tamara has long been an active elementary educator locally in Polk County and her work with the 2nd & 3rd grade students at Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary in Fort Meade made her stand out among her peers as someone who truly enjoys working with young children and understands how to incorporate economics and personal finance into her existing lessons.

Her winning lesson, The Lemonade Wars inspired her students to create a real lemonade stand of their own and then donate the revenue to their local VFW Paws for Patriots Charity. In her project, students used STEM lessons to learn language arts, math, science, technology, social studies, art and personal finance/entrepreneurship and the concepts of money. Congrats Tamara!

Check Out Tamara’s Project:

School: Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary

School District: Polk County

Subject: All-general

Grade Level: Kindergarten

Number of Years Teaching: 15

When did you know you wanted to be a teacher? I was subbing for an inter-city elementary and another teacher encouraged me to go back to school because I liked working with their kids. That school is now closed-it was a challenge to sub there but teamwork with the other teachers made it a nice atmosphere to learn.

If you weren’t teaching what would you do? I would be working with USF or UF in environmental education and collecting data or writing articles about climate change and Florida.

What’s your favorite topic to teach? Whatever the kids like learning best. I like to combine art, music, reading and math or science into projects. My best project was an international iEarn.org tech class with my students called “My Town” and we shared video and powerpoints with others around the globe!

What’s the hardest topic to teach? Reading-you must be persistent with students and patient.

Why do you think Economics and Personal Finance are important to learn? Economics is the heartbeat of our planet regardless of language or country. Marco Polo opened new trades when he established his trade route from Italy to China. Our classes need to understand and take control of their needs and wants to be happy at any age. Econ and personal finance are important to understand and take self-control for now and our future in the real world. I am happy to participate in the FCEE projects in addition to teaching in public school. Teachers inspire teachers and all this great learning takes place!! No child has ever asked me “Why are we learning this??” Economics provides real world answers and real world jobs. Every school should be adding this to the social studies curriculum.

How has the FCEE impacted your teaching? Happy students, happy teacher. We all enjoy the projects we create and learn from each year and the students want more the next year!

What’s your favorite FCEE resource or program?
Dr. Kozdrav and Mr. Scott from the Econ Center at USF in Tampa and all the cool projects FCEE includes throughout the year for our students to shine with their new econ knowledge. It must begin somewhere-elementary teachers need to be included as well as middle and high school teachers of economics. I teach also after school so I can include more grades than kindergarten. Free workshops at USF help teachers learn more about econ topics of all sorts-WOW-I need to move closer to take more of those.

What advice would you give to a first-year economics or personal finance teacher? Please start somewhere and you will not regret it. My first project was rejected but I got invited to the presentations at a posh golf club. I was disappointed but last year I won first prize for Out of the Box for Elementary combining literature and a real lemonade stand which donated profits to our local VFW, Paws for Patriots. The takeaway is to do more than just keep money for our own needs or wants.   

What do you like to do for fun outside of school? I like to go to Key West and explore the key islands snorkeling and kayaking. 

What’s one thing your students may not know about you? I started my own comic book business in fourth and fifth grade with notebook paper and colored markers with another student. We sold them for 25 cents each and mass produced them for our peers. My dad took a small loan from me because I put all my money in my toy bank. Ha ha ha.