PCHS teacher shares passion for history
November 25, 2014
It was a personal connection that first spurred Erin Miller’s love for history.
Having grown up Jewish in England during World War II, Miller’s grandmother was deeply affected by those tragic times. And as Miller learned of her grandmother’s past, her passion for history blossomed.
As a first-year history teacher at Park City High School, Miller is now hoping to share that love with her students.
"It’s a hard job, but I love it," said Miller, who teaches United States history, United States government and sociology. "I wouldn’t want to do anything else."
Though as a first-year teacher Miller is still developing her teaching identity, one thing about her is clear: Forming connections with her students is a vital part of her philosophy. The pace of her speech quickens as she discusses the moment students "get it." For her, that moment is everything.
"In history, that moment is when they get interested," Miller said. "It’s that same spark that I had. They’re like, ‘Oh, this is awesome.’ And I love it because we go off on these awesome tangents and we make all these great connections. In history, you can have those types of discussions, and I just love it."
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Plenty of her students have had those moments this year. She said classroom discussions are always lively, with the majority of students participating. Achieving such a high level of discourse has been gratifying for Miller, who said that is one of the best ways for students to learn history.
"I think at the very beginning, because I was a new teacher, they were a little unsure of my personality and how I was going to accept some of the things they were saying," she said. "But I’m a pretty easy teacher in terms of what I will accept in a discussion. Now they really jump in. I don’t have to pull teeth to get them to talk."
Smiling, Miller shared an example of a recent discussion in her class that went in a direction she didn’t expect but perfectly illustrated the importance of studying history. Her class was learning about prohibition when a student wondered aloud about the effects that a ban on alcohol would have on today’s society. Debate, and an exchange of ideas, ensued.
"That’s really what I want," Miller said. "That’s why we study history. We’ve talked about how the past really has affected the present and how it will affect the future. And they’ve really grasped that."
Being able to connect with students has been even more special to Miller because she remembers being in their shoes. As a student at PCHS — she graduated in 2008 — she learned best through open discussions, where she relished the opportunity to participate and offer her opinions.
"I didn’t necessarily do great on tests," she said. "But if you wanted me to talk during class, I could verbalize it to you. So I love the discussions."
For as much passion as she has for teaching, Miller took a circuitous path to the profession. Out of high school, she wanted to become a politician and even worked political internships in Washington, D.C. But a funny thing happened while she was in the nation’s capitol. She found herself spending much of her free time at the Smithsonian Museum, where she attended countless guest lectures. Meanwhile, her interest in politics — are at least a career in politics — waned.
When she returned home, she discovered that her ambitions had changed.
"I realized this is what I want to do," Miller said. "I want to talk about history all day."
Nearly a half-year into her teaching career, Miller said it’s been all that she had hoped. However, there have been some eye-opening moments. She hadn’t quite understood before the year began exactly how much the profession demands.
"I felt so prepared," she said. "But I don’t think I realized how much it was going to take over, like, every aspect of my life. I find myself working on weekends, all the time. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t have a life anymore."
In the long hours after school spent grading papers and test, Miller has also stumbled upon an important realization. The commitment to go above and beyond and envelop oneself in teaching is what sets a good teacher apart from a great teacher — one who can forge strong connections with his or her students. And that’s the type of teacher she hopes to be.
"If you’re not passionate about what you’re teaching, or the teaching itself, students don’t care," she said. "If I don’t like what I’m doing, my students won’t like what they’re doing. They definitely pick up on it. And I feel bad on the days where it’s just one of those days. Sometimes it’s just hectic and hard to get into that role. But I think the more they get to know me, and the more I get to know my students, it becomes easier."
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