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Elissa Miller, HS Math Teacher, on Teaching

January 20, 2011


Three words that describe your teaching persona

Relaxed, informal, questioning

Why teach? Or, how did you become a teacher?

I hate the helpless crying feeling when you know something is within your reach but you can’t reach it. I want to extend the reach for those that are stretched to the max. I have never wanted to do anything else. My entire life has been preparing for this career. I know that I am meant to be here and do this for such a time as this.  

What would you be if not a teacher?

Interior Decorator / Graphics Designer / Wedding Planner

What do you do to optimize student engagement in class?

I try to think about how to get the students out of their seats, rotating positions/stations, creating something, or having a really intense conversation.

Coffee, tea, or caffeine-free?

Sweet tea, especially from McDonalds, but preferably homemade.

Describe your classroom management style (including a few best practices) in a few sentences.

I have none. I try to create a laid-back, informal environment where we can talk and joke around and have a good time as we work. I do my best to diffuse situations with humor. I do a lot of tsk tsk-ing. My main weapon is the “two nice things challenge.” Anytime someone says a rude comment, they have to say two nice things. They tend to get tired of that and learn to stop themselves before saying the mean thing in the first place.

Favorite Cartoon/TV/Movie Teacher

Mr. Feeney!

Favorite Book (to read or to teach)

To read: Sophie’s Heart; To read about teaching: Educating Esme

Is teaching an art or a science? Explain.

Teaching is both science and art because it contains procedures, rules, processes, experiments and results but also freedom, creativity, beauty, passion, and inspiration. Teaching can be learned and enjoyed; it’s a practiced gift.

Who was your favorite teacher as a student? Why?

I liked almost all of my teachers. Different teachers affected me in different ways at different stages in different phases of my life. I value people I learn from and I always learned. Some years I came home and told my mom I couldn’t wait to be a teacher so I could how show them how to do it right.

Describe your process of preparing a lesson.

I start out by using my Common Core pacing chart to see what I need to be teaching. Then I check with my instructional coach and my Twitter PLN to see if anyone has super awesome ideas or resources already created. If not, we brainstorm on ideas to try. Next I hit up Google for powerpoints, worksheets, or activities. I usually steal an idea and take off on my own to design how I want it to look. I first create some kind of warm up activity or review problems and then I write a summary question as an exit slip. Then I kind of use the idea I have and build around it. When I get stuck, I stop and ask my Twitter people what and how I should teach it. When I’m done, I try to think about what the students will be doing and how to make it more interesting or active. If I am content that my students will be actively participating, I save it and go to bed!

How do you fit differentiation into your lessons?

I try to do a lot of group work so I can take individual time talking with each group. Sometimes I set up stations that students rotate through independently so I can meet with students one-on-one. This is about all I have managed to do so far.

Which teacher do you admire most and what makes him/her a great teacher?

Jonathan McNeely. He has the insight to see inside your soul to the very seed of your passion and then carefully water it and bring it back to life. He teaches by what he says and what he doesn’t. There is always a lesson to be learned in his words as well as actions. As he continually improves, he continues to improve those around him. He is always moving forward and finding ways to gain and create momentum. He questions things. He forces your mind to uncurl, open, and wrap your head around things you didn’t previously think were possible. He teachers you how to learn so that you can teach.  

He teaches you how to teach.

What makes a teacher effective?

Being organized, assertive, and stubborn. Not giving up but always finding ways to improve. Caring about students 110% more than anyone has and supporting them longer than anyone else will. Consistency. Commitment. Caring.

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