My Classroom Story: Lillian Miller

My Classroom Story: Lillian Miller

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Q. What grade and subjects do you teach?

I teach third grade in Charleston, South Carolina. On paper I only teach social studies, science, English/language arts and math. In reality, I am also a second mom, nurse, guidance counselor, disciplinarian, and on some days, the person my children see more than their own parents. Being a teacher has never just been about getting through the curriculum.

Q. How long have you been teaching? What inspired you to go into teaching?

I just finished my first year of teaching, which was wonderful and terrifying all at the same time. I really wanted to be a teacher because I remember how much I loved my elementary teachers. They made things fun and interesting; I thought they had the best job in the world. I was right. I have always loved working with kids and I want to give students a great experience at school, like I had.

Q. What’s the hardest part of being a teacher?

The hardest part about being a teacher is watching your kids not reach their full potential. A lot of my children came in with the mindset that they were not smart and [that] they could not do the work. After a few weeks I realized that my kids had never really been challenged to work independently before. They had no self-confidence and could not see their own potential. They would call themselves dumb or stupid, throw their work on the ground, and give up.

More than half of my students were [stuck] in this mindset and it took months and a lot of morning meetings discussing how our failures help us to get through it and build them up.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of being a teacher?

I think the most rewarding part of being a teacher is watching your students grow and become wonderful little human beings. Also, you get called “mom” sometimes and that just melts your heart. For some of my students, I saw them more than their own parents were able to, so I tried to really embrace that and give them some extra love.

Q. Do you often spend your own money on classroom supplies? What supplies? Approximately how much do you spend each year?

In Charleston County teachers are given $275 [annually] to buy supplies for their classroom. That sounds like a lot, right? A government-funded classroom looks like it has been deserted. There is barely anything in it. I have spent easily $3,000 of my own money on my classroom. I have bought decorations, manipulatives, bean bag chairs, extra rugs, an electric pencil sharpener, Expo markers, etc. Granted, I was a first year teacher so next year I may not spend as much, but if you want students to learn you have to make them feel safe. You have to put love into your classroom so your students feel loved when they walk in. My kids this year were not big readers until I got pillows, bean bag chairs, and a comfy corner for their independent reading. Then they never wanted to leave.

I got a student at the beginning of the year who did not speak English, so when we grew her reading level, I bought her chapter books in Spanish so we could practice her comprehension. We did not have Spanish chapter books in the library, so I had to find my own. We also have to grow our own classroom libraries. If you want your students to read, you better have some good books available to them.

Q. Is there a particular item or school supply that you run out of in your classroom more often than other items? If so, what is that item and why do you use so much of it?

Pencils, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and Expo markers—the things that we use everyday are the things we cannot keep in stock.

  • Pencils get sharpened too much or fall on the floor and get cracked; it happens. So if you run out of pencils, you just ask teachers around you if they have some back up supplies. I work with a lot of wonderful teachers.
  • My school is out in the country with lots of pollen, so Kleenex are in high demand. Sometimes I would have to buy Kleenex at Costco and stock the classroom.
  • We use hand sanitizer after blowing our noses, touching something gross, and before lunch. Protip: If you put a rubber band around the nozzle on the hand sanitizer, it’ll do half a pump.
  • Expo markers are really useful in the classroom, but putting the cap firmly back on took mastery.

Q. How active are the parents of your students in your school? How active is the community in supporting your school?

Since my school is out in the country, the school is basically the community. But I still have students whose parents I have never met or heard from. [So many of the] parents work long, inflexible hours and even when they wanted to help, something usually came up. They really only came to the classroom when something was wrong or we were having behavior issues.

[That said] my boyfriend came in a lot to do things with my students and he was like a celebrity to them. They loved him and he loved them, so when he came in, it was always a reward.

Q. If you had to choose only one lesson to get across to your students each year, what would it be?

You have no idea what someone else's life is like, so there is no reason to treat anyone with anything other than kindness and respect. Our class motto was “Be a Fragrance, Not an Odor” and it worked. We would always talk about how an odor is something we want to get away from, but a fragrance is nice and you want to be near it. Your attitude can either be a fragrance, or it can be an odor. As one of my students put it: “You don’t see people hanging around dog poop. That stuff stinks!”

Q. What one tip would you give to other aspiring teachers?

Love every kid the same, even the ones who are never absent and drive you up a wall. Hug your kids and tell them you love them before they leave everyday, because you may not know what they are going home to. Be invested in their lives outside of school, learn their siblings names and ages, go to games and dance recitals, and just do as much as you can! It will make your time with them that much more special and that much easier.

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