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Elissa Miller, High School Math Teacher, on Teaching

April 2, 2012

We asked Elissa to share some of her thoughts about teaching — best practices and fun facts.  Read below to learn more about her teaching style:

One word that describes your teaching persona


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

Being a teacher is the only job I’ve ever wanted. When I was little, I played school with my sisters and sometimes by myself. I would write papers just so I could grade them. I even made my own grade book! At parent-teacher conferences, my parents would tell the teachers that I wanted to teach and so then they would have me be the teacher’s assistant. I was definitely the teacher’s pet. I was THAT kid.


What would you be if not a teacher?

A secretary or interior designer.

What do you do to optimize student engagement in class?

Recently I’ve been creating things using index cards or white boards that have students work in partners, switch roles, self-check, and basically stay in engaged. I’ve done things where half the class has one thing and has to go match themselves up with the other half of the class. Also, I just went to a conference that gave me tons of math game ideas to use for any math concepts. Basically, I look for ways that students can discover new things without me telling them, whether that be through an investigation, discussion, or game.

Coffee, tea, or caffeine-free?

Sweet tea

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

Classroom management is my downfall, but the little skill I do have is built on good relationships with my students and a sense of humor. I truly enjoy my students and being with them, and I hope that that shows. I go their basketball games and concerts and I do my best to talk to students individually as much as possible. I buy them their favorite candy on their birthday and ask them about their weekends. During class, I try to keep things light and playful as well as keep the students active. My number one saving grace this year has been keeping students working the entire hour. Down tine = management problems! I figure if I avoid the problems as much a possible, then I don’t have to deal with them!

Favorite Cartoon/TV/Movie Teacher

Ron Clark / Esme Raji Codell/ Mr. Feeney

Favorite Book (to read or to teach)

To read: Sophie’s Heart

About teaching: Educating Esme

Is teaching a science or art? Explain.

It’s both. It’s a science because we are always creating a hypothesis, running experiments, and making predictions. There are pieces that can be practiced, taught, learned, and refined. You can analyze and collect data and study it. But it’s an art because it’s the little things that can’t necessarily be measured that make a difference: the hug, pat on the back, smile, relationship advice, remembering a birthday, and so on. It’s the passion, the caring, and the little extra that can’t necessarily be caught or taught that makes teaching a gift, a talent, an art.

Describe your process of preparing a lesson.

This is my second year of teaching so I still plan day to day. I look at what we did today and see where we need to go from here for tomorrow’s lesson. Then I start searching for ideas on Google and I also ask my PLN on twitter for ideas. Once I have a starting point, I try to develop something that students can work on in teams or partners and teach each other. I create investigations that are scaffolded so students can do most of it on their own or I create a Powerpoint for those days that are direct instruction.

How do you fit differentiation into your lessons?

I do a lot of team work and pairs so that I can pair people together who can help each other as well as teach each other. Also, when students are in teams it is easier for me to circulate the room and remediate where needed without drawing attention.

Who was your favorite teacher as a student? Why?

My junior college math professor was my favorite because he was funny, laid back, and really smart. He spent the first class period getting to know us and having us find out more about each other. When he saw you in the hallway, he knew your name and always spoke to you. He made class interesting and fun. He assigned homework but didn’t grade it. I’m not sure how he got all of us to do it, but somehow we did it. You didn’t want to disappoint him by not practicing, but he would always help you, even if you didn’t do the homework. He never embarrassed people when they were wrong and he had a way of explaining things that made every concept seem simple. Simple, not easy. He knew how to make us work without us realizing it.

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

I admire my first grade teacher who just so happens to now be my colleague. I have never met a student or adult who does not like her. She is always happy, enthusiastic, and positive. She oozes caring from every pore in her body. She is always hard working, going the extra mile, and being supportive. She is full of smiles and good ideas.

What makes a teacher effective?

An effective teacher truly cares about their students and works to develop relationships first so that teaching can come next. Students won’t remember everything you teach them but they will remember how you made them feel. When students know they are cared for and care about each other, they will work much harder and push each other farther. Effective teachers get things done and that can’t happen without relationship. And it can’t happen if you can never find anything. Effective teachers are organized and prepared! Even if it appears to be organized chaos. =)



P.S. You can check out Elissa’s Algebra course materials here: Algebra I.



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One Comment
  1. Excellent article! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our website.
    Keep up the good writing.

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