Griffin-Spalding teacher Lisa Miller: Coming home to teach

Lisa Baker

Lisa Miller of Moreland Road Elementary.

Here is another installment in UGA professor Peter Smagorinsky’s Great Georgia Teacher series. This essay focuses on Lisa Miller of Moreland Road Elementary School in the Griffin-Spalding County Schools.

By Peter Smagorinsky

The issue of safety in elementary schools has been a topic of national discussion since the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct. Although opinions vary on how to achieve the goal of ensuring the safety of students, teachers, administrators, and others who occupy the building, everyone agrees on the need for schools to be safe places so that teachers and students can pursue the educational mission with focus and enthusiasm.

For kindergarten teacher Lisa Miller of Moreland Road Elementary School in the Griffin-Spalding County Schools, where she was named the system’s Teacher of the Year in 2009, a safe environment is of paramount importance. Not, however, in the sense that drives the national debate about school safety.

Rather, Lisa is concerned with the emotional safety that her students need to feel in order to find school a supportive and nurturing place. “It is my responsibility to create an environment that is positive and conducive to learning,” she says. “Students that feel safe to explore their thoughts and ideas will be encouraged to strive to gain more knowledge and skills and will be more likely to continue to seek knowledge once they leave my classroom.”

Those of us who have sent our own children to school know what she’s talking about. Of course, we want violence-free environments for our school learning. But on a daily basis, we want our children to have the more general feeling of emotional safety, which serves to enable young people—particularly those in preschool and kindergarten programs that provide their first exposure to education and its socialization mission—to navigate their surroundings with the belief that they are in the hands of a caring, dedicated adult.

Teachers like Lisa Miller provide such settings, and great Georgia teachers like her have for generations made schools the center of community life, a supportive extension of loving homes, and a harbor for children whose families cannot provide the love and resources that they deserve.

Her principal at Moreland Road Elementary, Stan Mangham, recognizes and appreciates these contributions, saying, “I, along with every parent of every child she has taught, am grateful she is a part of our school and system and wish we had more teachers of her caliber among us. . . . Moreland Road is blessed to have you here educating our children. You possess an uplifting, nurturing spirit and surround your children with love, compassion, and warmth.”

He describes Lisa as “an outstanding teacher who deserves any and all accolades that come her way. She is very unassuming and never seeks recognition herself, but is very deserving.” In addressing her in honor of being the county Teacher of the Year, he said, “You represent all that we aspire to be and accomplish day to day tasks with honor, grace, and elegance. You are the face of Moreland Road and we are fortunate to have you as our representative, co-worker, and friend.”

Lisa is a native of Griffin-Spalding County and a proud graduate of its public school system, through which she has also sent her own children. After getting her B.A. at Mercer University and master’s from Central Michigan, she returned to teach in her hometown area in 1990.

“As a kindergarten teacher, I know that a child’s first teacher is their family and they are sometimes influenced by society. Emphasizing the connection between home, school and community is important because children’s well-being is affected by decisions made from each group,” says Lisa.

Lisa’s excellence as a teacher is evident in the testimonials given by those who surround her. She is, says one admirer, “the epitome of a teacher. She goes to sleep each night dreaming about her class and wakes up thinking of ways in which she can be a better leader for the 20 or so young minds that she encounters each day. As a kindergarten teacher, she understands that it is her responsibility to provide a firm educational foundation that will last her students the rest of their lives. . . . Our family and friends have long since known how dedicated you are to your craft. We are all proud that you are getting the public recognition you deserve. Congratulations from a very proud son! (I feel like you should have a crown or something).” OK, so that’s her son speaking. But I’d be proud too.

Her colleagues appreciate her as well. Fellow teacher Linda Birath has written, “Congratulations, No one deserves this [Teacher of the Year] honor more. I am so glad I had the privilege of working with you over the years. It has always been obvious that you love the children and you love your ‘job.’ It is great that you have finally been recognized for the wonderful job you have always done. You are much more than at teacher. You are a role model for life and your Christian values show in everything you do.”

Ms. Birath makes several points worth emphasizing. One is her placement of “job” in quotation marks, suggesting that Lisa Miller epitomizes Confucius’s ancient wisdom: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Like any great teacher, Lisa undertakes her work with a passion that makes it a labor of love, a disposition that appears to be shared by many of her friends and colleagues.

The second concerns Ms. Birath’s grounding of Lisa’s dedication to teaching in her religious faith. In a previous profile in this series of Bettina Polite Tate, I made a similar point, one that was received with varying degrees of acceptance by the blog commenters. I should reiterate that I am not personally a religious person, and so am not using Lisa’s example to convert you to any particular faith.

What I do see in Lisa’s embodiment of biblical values is her embrace of her savior’s value on compassion. No matter what serves as its motivation, compassion is a quality that great teachers have, in that it drives them to care for students in profound and meaningful ways. They care about their academic development, but just as importantly they care for and nurture their growth as good citizens, family members, friends, and loved ones. Ultimately, those qualities are at least as important as any scores on math or spelling tests.

Lisa’s classroom excellence is only part of her work for her community. She has worked for the March for Babies, a March of Dimes charity that provides assistance so babies begin life healthy. I see this volunteer work going hand-in-hand with her decision to teach at the kindergarten level, a time of great sensitivity to students in their physical, emotional, and academic development.

In past articles for the AJC’s Get Schooled blog, I have made the case that teachers are the heart and soul of every school. Lisa Miller shows how big that heart can be, and the kind of soul it grows. Lisa Miller is more than a teacher in an isolated room of kids. She has a bigger presence, one that uplifts her school and community and makes the educational experience critical and fulfilling. That’s hard to measure with numbers, but tangible in terms of the inspiration and care that people recognize in her contributions. That’s my kind of teacher, and one all Georgians can be proud to have in our schools.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

68 comments Add your comment

Mary Elizabeth

March 18th, 2013
1:57 am

“No matter what serves as its motivation, compassion is a quality that great teachers have, in that it drives them to care for students in profound and meaningful ways. They care about their academic development, but just as importantly they care for and nurture their growth as good citizens, family members, friends, and loved ones. Ultimately, those qualities are at least as important as any scores on math or spelling tests.”
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I totally agree with these thoughts. Lisa Miller is a credit to the teaching profession. She is an outstanding teacher. The days of her life will be blessed, and she will be a blessing to others all of the days that she teaches. She makes me proud to have been a teacher. She knows what teaching is all about.

Thank you, Lisa Miller, for who you are as a human being, and for how you nurture your students to reach their potential by fostering harmony and integration within their mental, physical, and emotional development. You help to create whole, evolved human beings who will, in turn, be blessings to others.

10:10 am

March 18th, 2013
2:29 am

In a cynical age, one in which even a nod to the beneficent influences of a Christian life rightly lived may come with a disclaimer—we can rejoice in discovering individual teachers whose personal values nonetheless lead them to excel.

May others like her find encouragement in that.

Jack ®

March 18th, 2013
5:43 am

I second the opinion of Mary Elizabeth. The Lisa Millers among us are few and far between.

linda

March 18th, 2013
6:01 am

She is a treasure!

Bernie

March 18th, 2013
6:32 am

This is just ONE Example of the THOUSANDS of TEACHERS of Georgia That Rise UP every morning to prepare our children’s future. We ALL owe them a debt of GRATTITUDE for doing such a
THANKLESS JOB everyday! Congrats Ms.Miller…Today is the day WE SALUTE YOU!

dcb

March 18th, 2013
7:08 am

If all the teachers of this world were as Lisa Miller in this article is described to be, than I too, would agree that teachers are the heart and soul of all schools. But unfortunately that is not the case. As is the fact that when you have parents and all staff members of the school doing their part, no one piece of the puzzle is more important than another. The key is to be student or child-centered – and I’ve seen schools where the custodian epitomizes that even more than many educators.

Maude

March 18th, 2013
7:17 am

To call one teacher the heart and soul of a school is a terrible slap in the face to all the other educators in that school! Millions of teachers do the same thing day after day all across the world. To brag on someone who is just doing her job is bad. It makes me wonder what the author thinks of most teachers.

Michael Moore

March 18th, 2013
7:53 am

I don’t know what the author thinks but I know that Lisa is one many teachers out there and any school can have more than one heart and soul. The problem is that the public and political narratives that exist about teachers have been so overwhelmingly negative that we rarely read narratives like these that remind us of the overwhelming majority of teachers who should be allowed to just teach.

Mountain Man

March 18th, 2013
8:13 am

I would like to say THANK YOU to ALL the teachers out there – not just Lisa Miller (although I am sure she is a great woman). Teachers regularly put up with crap that I would NEVER put up with – they are unappreciated for the job that they do, and they totally lack support (for the most part) from their ADMINISTRATORS. So THANKS, teachers!

Mountain Man

March 18th, 2013
8:15 am

I would like to see the author do an article on the heroes of the APS cheating scandal – the ones who refused to cheat and lost their jobs because of it. Especially if they did not get their job back (have you heard of ANY teacher being reinstated after being fired because they refused to cheat?)

Mountain Man

March 18th, 2013
8:17 am

Or perhaps there are teachers out there who refused to go along with their principals in a student promotion committee after the student failed the CRCT, and had their contract “non-renewed” because of it. These are the real heros of teaching.

South Georgia Retiree

March 18th, 2013
8:18 am

Thanks to Lisa Miller for doing the right things for young children. There are more like her all over our state, and I wish our Governor and Legislature would acknowledge them and give them the support they deserve. Instead, for the past 11 years state leaders have only given lip service and no real material support. Today in Georgia, Lisa and thousands of other teachers are doing their jobs well because they love children and want them to succeed. In return, teachers receive a slap in the face with no salary increases, larger classes, less money to buy classroom equipment and supplies, and disdain from many state leaders, who tell them they’re lucky to have jobs. All we can do is hope that the political pendulum will soon swing back to the middle and public schools again are given the support that’s so badly needed. The best investment for economic growth is in public schools, not in tax credits for corporations and others who don’t need it.

Mountain Man

March 18th, 2013
8:39 am

“an analysis by the AJC about 4 years ago showed virtually NO school system following the requirement to pass CRCT in 3,5,8. A minuscule number of kids retained, statewide.”

Schools (principals mostly) are thumbing their noses at the Georgia Legislature that passed regulations about social promotion.

Peter Smagorinsky

March 18th, 2013
8:44 am

I hope that by focusing on Lisa, I am not giving the impression that she is the only good teacher in her school. Goodness gracious, what a conclusion to draw from this profile. Here’s what I actually said above: “I have made the case that teachers are the heart and soul of every school.” Note that I used the plural form, not the singular.

I wish I had world enough and time to write all the columns that people recommend I undertake. How about if those who suggest topics go ahead and write essays that express your own perspectives, which you surely can do better than I possibly could. I look forward to reading them.

Brasstown

March 18th, 2013
9:57 am

Very nice article. Thank you Peter and Maureen.

South Georgia-Spot on.

Maureen Downey

March 18th, 2013
10:06 am

@Let me add to Peter’s comment. I am delighted to publish essays from readers on any topic related to education. Send them to me.
Maureen

Maude

March 18th, 2013
10:28 am

I feel that this essay is a slap in the face of all teachers who are doing their job and going that extra mile. I will repeat that one teacher cannot be the heart and soul of a school to say so implies that all the other teachers in the schoolo are not doing their job. If you want to write about great teachers you should include more than one in your report. While I am sure Ms. Miller is a great persona and teacher, she is only one of thousands across this state. I am thinking she must be a friend or relative to the author to have been singled out as doing something out of the ordinary. Which by the way is not out of the ordinary. Schools are full of this kind of teachers!! She is doing nothing beyond what the job calls for, to have her praised for doing her job is not right. This essay gives the impression that other teachers are not doing their jobs. This is simply not true!

BKM

March 18th, 2013
12:06 pm

@Maude Two things, the article DOES NOT imply “that all the other teachers in the schools are not doing their job.” It simply takes the time out to recognize the teachers they feel are doing their “job” exceptionally well. As Lisa Miller’s son, I can personally tell you that we are NOT related to Peter or Maureen. My mother hates recognition and I had to personally beg her to let them feature her. Secondly, this is part of a SERIES in which MANY teachers have been featured and many more will be featured in the future. Please see the line where the author writes, “In a previous profile in this series of Bettina Polite Tate, I made a similar point, one that was received with varying degrees of acceptance by the blog commenters.” IN A PREVIOUS PROFILE IN THIS SERIES… This is a series, did you actually read the article? Look, if they’re not posting them at a fast enough rate, maybe you should research and write some posts yourself and help them expedite this process a bit. If you feel that strongly about it, maybe they can start posting 2-3 teachers at a time. You’re right that there are many teachers out doing similar things what Lisa Miller is doing. However, I think you’re naive to thing that ALL teachers approach their jobs in the same way. Some teachers race out of the building at 3:59pm while some routinely stay to 6pm or later preparing for the next day. Some put the bare minimun into their craft, while others put money from their OWN small paychecks BACK into their classroom in the face of budget cuts. As a person with first-hand knowledge, she goes WAY BEYOND “what the job calls for.” I think that’s what her peers were trying to say when she was nominated and then awarded Teacher of the Year. Unless you have first-hand knowledge of what she actually does on a daily-basis and not just what you read in an abbreviated article, you can’t say what someone does beyond “what the job calls for.” Again, I see what she does when the camera’s aren’t rolling and when no one is writing about it. I see the extra work that goes into providing shoes and clothes for needy students which is NOT in her job description. I’m the one over at her house at midnight to build something she’s seen in a book, a magazine, or on Pinterest that she thinks her students have to have. I’m the one at Home Depot with her buying supplies out of her own pocket to build things to increase this “safe-environment classroom.” I see what she does “beyond what the job calls for” and so do the students she teaches. That’s all that matters. The fact that someone decided to write about it doesn’t affect her one bit. She’ll still be a Super Teacher tomorrow. I don’t know how many “great teachers” there are vs. “average teachers.” I don’t have the numbers. However, I personally thank Peter and Maureen for highlighting my mother and all the other great teachers they find for doing what can sometimes feel like a thank-less “job.” This article was completely written before my family knew anything about it. The authors did their own research and found a blog post I wrote 4 years ago about my mother and used it for a quote. You two did a wonderful job and I look forward to reading more of the profiles in this SERIES of great teachers.

OriginalProf

March 18th, 2013
12:18 pm

Sigh. It never seems to fail: these congratulatory letters about various teachers bring out the snipers. Here it was by the sixth post. I do hope that Ms. Miller was braced for this when Professor Smagorinsky told her he was writing about her for “Get Schooled.”

Funny

March 18th, 2013
12:26 pm

The congratuatory letters do not bring out snipers. This essay places this one teacher above all the rest. It seems to me that the author of the essay and readers of this blog think all teachers are sorry ones. I would suggest that the author plan to spend more time in schools and he will truly see that this one teacher is only doing the same thing most teachers do.

Peter Smagorinsky

March 18th, 2013
12:46 pm

Funny, Maude, and others who take the perspective that I’m placing this one teacher above all the rest: Heaven help us.

Mary Elizabeth

March 18th, 2013
2:24 pm

@ Peter Smagorinsky, 12:46 pm

“Funny, Maude, and others who take the perspective that I’m placing this one teacher above all the rest: Heaven help us.”
==================================

I agree with your thoughts on this, Professor Smagorinsky. I did not perceive that you were attempting to place one teacher above all the other teachers.

It was my perception upon reading your article that you were simply highlighting, for public awareness, Lisa Miller’s outstanding efforts as a teacher, as well as highlighting the full spectrum of what matters in teaching. Thank you for doing both.

Pride and Joy

March 18th, 2013
4:13 pm

What concerns me is her “teaching in her faith.”
Faith teaching is soley the purview of the parents and the parents’ chosen religious leaders.
I do not want any religion being taught in a public school. That’s MY job.

BKM

March 18th, 2013
4:44 pm

Apparently NOW Peter is saying that she’s “teaching religion in public school.” These comments are becoming quite comical.

Pride and Joy

March 18th, 2013
6:19 pm

Teachers are never the heart and soul of any school system, regardless how well they teach and nurture children.
STUDENTS and teachers are the heart and soul of the school as one cannot exist without the other.
To write about this teacher as THE (singular) heart and soul of the school is to give a slap in the face to all other good teachers and all good students.
The author who wrote that about this teacher is obviously stupid. To single out one teacher as the heart and soul of a school is to alienate EVERYONE else.
I have no opinion as to whether this teacher is great or not as I do not know her but I do think Peter is an idiot for making such a comment.
And again…
All we ever hear about the great teachers called out on this blog is a vague description that they are great.
What would really be helpful, and not just PR, is for the authors to say, specifically, what they do that makes them great.
In that way, we can all learn from the teacher. What techniques does she use?
Mary Elizabether offers helpful, specific techniques for managing both discipline and academics. If we knew what specific techniques this teacher used, we’d all be better for it.
In short, we need better guest writers or at least someone to help them write better essays.

OriginalProf

March 18th, 2013
7:52 pm

@ BKM. What is happening here is quite sad. Those of us who are actually teachers greatly applaud your mother and the way she clearly values all of her students. What struck me the most as I read Professor Smagorinsky’s essay was that she is a kindergarten teacher who clearly shapes her young students’ entire venture into education. God bless her. (Yes! I actually addressed a prayer to our Deity on her behalf! May she be sustained in spite of the envy and spite she has experienced on this blog so far.)

Mary Elizabeth

March 18th, 2013
7:55 pm

@ Pride and Joy, 6:19 pm

“Mary Elizabeth offers helpful, specific techniques for managing both discipline and academics. If we knew what specific techniques this teacher used, we’d all be better for it.”
=====================================================

Thank you for you compliment to me, Pride and Joy, but I must disagree with you about this. The point of this essay was to underscore the positive impact that teachers’ love and compassion will have not only upon their students, but upon the entire school and community in which teachers works.

Professor Smagorinsky wrote, “No matter what serves as its motivation, compassion is a quality that great teachers have, in that it drives them to care for students in profound and meaningful ways.”

It was because I first loved, and had compassion for, all of my students, that I was motivated to spend extra effort and time in developing academic programs and disciplinary techniques which I believed would prove to be beneficial to their growth and to their future success after the school years.

Professor Smagorinsky, also, wrote the following words, specifically about Lisa Miller, “In past articles for the AJC’s Get Schooled blog, I have made the case that teachers are the heart and soul of every school. Lisa Miller shows how big that heart can be, and the kind of soul it grows. Lisa Miller is more than a teacher in an isolated room of kids. She has a bigger presence, one that uplifts her school and community and makes the educational experience critical and fulfilling.”

Here were the words of Lisa Miller, herself, from which we all can learn: “It is my responsibility to create an environment that is positive and conducive to learning”. . . “Students that feel safe to explore their thoughts and ideas will be encouraged to strive to gain more knowledge and skills and will be more likely to continue to seek knowledge once they leave my classroom. . . “As a kindergarten teacher, I know that a child’s first teacher is their family and they are sometimes influenced by society. Emphasizing the connection between home, school and community is important because children’s well-being is affected by decisions made from each group. . .”
—————————————————————

Compassion cannot be taught. It stems from the depths of one’s spiritual awareness that all are interconnected and that, spiritually, all are equal. When one experiences compassion which is profoundly felt, one realizes, without words, that “there but for the grace of God, go I.” The compassionate teacher sees the needs of each of her/his students, without judging them, and she knows that she must act to care for those critical needs. It is that simple, but the motivating force behind the teacher’s action is compassion.

Mary Elizabeth

March 18th, 2013
7:58 pm

Correction: “teachers work.”

Another comment

March 18th, 2013
8:26 pm

I was very concerned about the holy roller Jesus as my Saviour stuff in this article. I thought the article was fine, until all of a sudden it crossed the line into her Religious passion and using her Religious passion in teaching in a public school. Now that bothers me. It bothers me big time as a parent and Catholic,the original Christian Religion. Many times in Georgia public schools my children have encountered Evangelical Christians as teachers. These teacher’s want to use the public class room to spread their brand of Christianity. Their brand that claims that my Catholic children are not even Christian. Pity how bad they make the Jewish, Muslim, Buddish, and other actual non-Christian Religions feel.

As an individual whom has taken University level classes on World Religions, it amazes me how little some of these teachers know about other Religions, and other Christian forms of Religions. They have know idea of how Christianity evolved from Easter Sunday on. They only know what the Evangelical Minister who has them speaking in tongues on Sunday, or the Eddie Long, The Praise Church, etc.. feeds them on a weekly basis. These teacher’s then spout these “facts” to the students, in the public school. My children had less Religious talk in Catholic School when they attended, then they do from some Public School teachers. The real problem I have is the total lack of respect of other people’s religion from some of these teachers.

My daughter who went through 8th grade in Catholic School, had to repeatedly fill in the blanks for her AP Human Geography about other Non-Christian Religions, and about Catholism. Since, in Catholic School they were taught about all the worlds major religions. The teacher could not answer the questions about the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Catholic Religion the other students had, only my 14 year old daughter could. The teacher could only spout what her Preacher spouted, and his twist on the Bible.

BKM

March 18th, 2013
8:51 pm

Nowhere in the article does it say that Lisa Miller is teaching religion in her classroom. After 20+ years of teaching, don’t you think someone would have said something by now?! This is getting really ridiculous. It’s about reading and comprehension. You’ve all read the article, now please try to comprehend the information. It’s really sad the twists and turns that this article has been taken through. NO ONE is teaching religion in schools! THAT’S NOT WHAT THE ARTICLE SAYS. We as an intelligent society of people have reached an all-time low when this is the response to someone giving teachers (PLURAL BECAUSE THIS IS A SERIES ABOUT SEVERAL TEACHERS, NOT JUST LISA MILLER) a pat on the back for doing a good job. This is really sad.

OriginalProf

March 18th, 2013
9:03 pm

This is the only sentence in Professor Smagorinsky’s essay about Ms. Miller’s use of religion in her KINDERGARTEN classroom: “What I do see in Lisa’s embodiment of biblical values is her embrace of her savior’s value on compassion.” I do not know how on earth anyone can extend that into the vituperation of Another Comment at 8:26 pm. Perhaps Ms. Miller is Protestant; perhaps she is Catholic (can’t black people be Catholic?); or perhaps she is Buddhist, since he taught compassion for all living beings.

And just how, in any case, does one introduce “holy roller Jesus as my Saviour stuff” into a kindergarten class??

BKM

March 18th, 2013
9:14 pm

@OriginalProf I’m not sure how it’s done but I’m sure someone will leave a comment and enlighten us all. I’ve learned that my mother (and therefore myself) is related to Maureen AND Peter (which must be the only way teachers get recognition these days), I’ve learned that Peter thinks that Lisa Miller is the ONLY good teacher in the world (even though he’s written about several, go figure.), and NOW I’m learning that she’s holding Bible Study each day in her classroom (even thought the original comment about her religion quoted in this article was taken from a comment posted on MY personal blog from a family friend four years ago). I learned all this from the comment section of this article.

Deavours

March 18th, 2013
9:57 pm

Thank You, Maureen and Peter, for writing and publishing an article that could inspire any of us, no matter what we’re currently doing in life, to return to the classroom in hopes of doing half the good that someone like Lisa is doing. “Emotional safety”…thank God for the sanity of that idea!

Ed Johnson

March 19th, 2013
7:20 am

Funny

March 19th, 2013
7:51 am

Everyone the problem as I see it was the title of the essay “heart and soul of the school” I don’t mind teachers getting recognization, but the “heart and soul” statement was over the top. Without the title I would have read the essay with a different mind set, if the title was more like ” Ms. Miller is an example of what great teachers we have in Georgia”. Yes, there are teachers who do not go the extra mile but they pale in numbers to the ones who do exactly the same thing Ms. Miller does. I feel that everyone should know that FACT. The qualities Ms. Miller exhibits are not rare but the norm. Please write something to reflect that fact!

OriginalProf

March 19th, 2013
10:35 am

@ Funny, et. al. I’m sure that the “title of the essay” was written by some journalist at AJC whose assignment is writing headlines for the articles! I feel bad for Ms. Miller who had to read these posts so conspicuously lacking compassion, but glad that she has such a loyal son, BKM, who waged war on her behalf. And thank you, Ed Johnson at 7:20 am, for your link reminding us that ALL religions preach that compassion for others is the cornerstone of their beliefs. Some of the posters here need that reminder.

Peter Smagorinsky

March 19th, 2013
11:48 am

I do not write the titles that the essays appear under.

Mary Elizabeth

March 19th, 2013
2:30 pm

@ Funny, 7:51 am

Funny, your suggestion for a title is too generic, I think, to make a definitive statement about the specific qualities that great teachers, and the teaching profession, itself, should have – as does the chosen title for Professor Smagorinsky’s essay.

Please note the following line from Peter Smagorinsky’s essay, above: “In past articles for the AJC’s Get Schooled blog, I have made the case that teachers are the heart and soul of every school.” Notice that Professor Smagorinksy chose to use the plural form of the the word “teacher.”

Professor Smagorinsky affirms that teachers are the heart and soul of every school. To continue to be the heart and soul of schools, teachers must continue to be magnanimous in spirit. Imo, if a teacher is magnanimous in spirit, he or she will not be concerned with who does, or who does not, receive credit. Being magnanimous in spirit, to me, means being happy for any, and all, who excel. Moreover, that is an attitude, and consciousness, that evolved teachers should model for their students to emulate.

Mary Elizabeth

March 19th, 2013
2:39 pm

@ Ed Johnson, 7:20 am

Thank you for your links to “Contract for Compassion.” I have already signed up for “Contract for Compassion,” so that I might keep growing in that direction and that I might, perhaps, even lend my time and effort toward helping others, throughout the world, to value building compassion.

I am very gratified to learn that this movement, and that this organization, exist. The world so much needs this movement to catch fire in the “hearts and souls” of people throughout the world. You were wise to post your links, and I much appreciate that you did so.

Private Citizen

March 19th, 2013
4:56 pm

It is appropriate to call out the pronounced church-speech in this article from talking about “blessings” which is rather common peasant-talk in Georgia, to a colleague referencing “Christian values,” which when you have two in the school house doing this should be examined. Allow me to explain, and I am writing this as one versed in the Christian tradition. In other words, I would guess these same persons might be bigoted toward persons of other religions or cultures, for example would a Hindu teacher or atheist teacher be as welcome in the same school house? I expect not.

To be honest, this also makes the education professor appear to be utilising the most politically acceptable form of accolade possible. I assure you there are many competent ethical academics who could / would / should tear this religious fixation applied to government schools to shreds and there is good reason for it. It is not real far from “Taliban thinking” and if you will note, it the Christians with the fighter jets with love in their hearts who are dropping the bombs.

It is peculiar that the education professor, the featured teacher, and teacher’s colleague, and the weblog editor all seem to ignore the principle of separation of church and state applied to government schooling. It is notable that for the majority or Georgians, this locally popular religion culture is virtually unquestionable and insures a certain acceptance and success. Except, that I question it. Virtue is expected to be unstated. Religion in the government workplace, possibly more so. Meanwhile, we’re hiring Hindus to do outsource our maths and information technology. But I guess we can use up those heathens before discarding them and putting some righteous Christian figureheads as the bosses. Faith is universal and not just in the school house, but educators (kindergarten and university) have responsibility to both observe the law and respect others who may not share their pack mentality or willingness to sing the local song that is know so well to assure their own stability and success, often at real cost to other more cosmopolitan individuals.

Private Citizen

March 19th, 2013
5:02 pm

Do keep us informed when the education professor emulates the life of Christ and washes the feet of a prostitute or takes action to overturn the money-changers’ tables in the temple.

PS Looking forward to the treatise on the meaning of Revelations.

OriginalProf

March 19th, 2013
5:25 pm

It seems to me that there is a distinction between living out one’s religious faith in one’s daily life–how one approaches other people, how one dedicates oneself to service–and preaching one’s faith to others in an attempt to convert them. I believe that Jesus made this distinction when he advised private prayer that only God hears rather than ostentatious public prayer. When I read the essay about Ms. Miller above, I assumed the former. I see no evidence from anyone of the latter in her classroom.

The entire issue of the separation of church and state seems quite irrelevant here. Where exactly is the “church-speech”? Ms. Miller seems to be trying to put her personal faith into practice by treating others in a compassionate way, living her faith by example, I guess, rather than by preaching any words. I have known professors who were Orthodox Jews and adhered to the Talmudic teaching to seek social justice by reminding their students of equality for all; and I have known others who were Buddhist and tried to help their students learn to meditate inwardly. None of them proselytized in the classroom.

It seems to me that freedom of religion includes the freedom to HAVE religion, and that is what Ms. Miller is exercising.

BKM

March 19th, 2013
6:00 pm

People, let me say this and I will finally leave this alone as my mother has begged me to do for two days now. LISA MILLER NEVER SAID ANYTHING ABOUT RELIGION. The content for this article was taken from her Teacher of the Year application in which she never mentions Jesus, Baby Jesus, adult Jesus, Buddha, Allah or any other deity you can think of. The quote about her “Christian values” was made by a family friend who POSTED IT TO MY PERSONAL BLOG. No one is mixing church and state or “converting heathens” or anything else that I’ve seen posted here in the comment section. It was a personal comment from a family friend in a private setting (my personal blog) that was never meant for public consumption. The assumption that she is somehow preaching hellfire and brimstone to kindergarteners couldn’t be further from the truth. To those who have supported and congratulated my mother, I thank you on her behalf. To those of you who have perverted what was meant as a moment of recognition for ONE OF the great Georgia teachers, it’s time to move along. This horse is dead (even though it never really existed) and there is no need to beat it any longer. I had to convince my mother to do this article because she shuns recognition for doing what she feels is her duty to these kids. Because of what has transpired in this comment section, I regret it dearly. The silver-lining is that my mother hasn’t been affected by this at all. She knows that the only thing that matters is doing a great job in shaping the futures of the 20 or so kids in her class. Long after the cameras stop rolling, the articles stop being written, and the off-based comments stop being made, she’ll still be “Super Teacher.” Good luck to you all.

BKM

March 19th, 2013
6:03 pm

Let me guess, now Lisa Miller beats horses? Okay, I’m really done this time.

Private Citizen

March 19th, 2013
6:48 pm

Where exactly is the “church-speech”

And you calls yourself a prof?!!!

1. testimonials
2. your Christian values show in everything you do
3. embodiment of biblical values
4. embrace of her savior’s value
5. (crossing a line here) those qualities are at least as important as any scores on math or spelling tests

and Feb 27th post referenced in article http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/11/27/a-teacher-led-by-faith-and-fire-for-her-students-bettina-polite-tate-of-savannahs-johnson-high/

6. A teacher led by faith
7. a devout Christian
8. “not promoting Christianity itself here” (?)
9. Bible Belt teacher educator
10. Biblical notions of good works
11. lucky to have her on our side (taking sides? then who is the “other?” the Devil? Jean Genet?)

That’s two for two, Professor Smagorinsky. Two “Christian values” teachers featured. This is certainly not values neutral scholarship, sourced from EmpowerED Georgia, where “Our Beliefs” are a category on the mainpage. Perhaps they mean “mission statement.”

OriginalProf

March 19th, 2013
7:09 pm

@ Private Citizen. Calm down. This is a kindergarten teacher you’re writing about here. If she isn’t preaching to her 5-year old charges, then how is she damaging them?

I think you need to learn a little tolerance toward those who do not share your own beliefs. It’s quite legal to be an educator and have religious faith. As a professor, I’ve taught all sorts of American and international students and have respected their beliefs, including the absence of any at all. And all of us–including you–live in “the Bible Belt.”

Private Citizen

March 19th, 2013
7:16 pm

Prof, My comments are not of the teacher, however the essay, colleague comments in the essay, and featured scholarship certainly illustrate a certain systematic theology and I suggest to you that there is real fallout in such coordinated opinionation.

Private Citizen

March 19th, 2013
7:22 pm

Point is, prof, there is scholarship on the higher end of the spectrum concerning the real import, if not requirement, of values neutral education, and to veer from this is right there, hand in hand, with doing “character training” and such in schools. You may not be informed of the level of this type of activity being substituted in place of education in Georgia. Let me summon one document from you, that should scare you to death if you have any sense. Outside of the USA, there are places where this type of thing would land you in court and for good reason. It is brainwashing, and it is dereliction of duty and misapplication of resources. LIST OF VALUES AND CHARACTER EDUCATION ADOPTED BY THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION (GEORGIA) http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/affect/valuesga.html

Mary Elizabeth

March 19th, 2013
8:48 pm

The words of St. Paul from his letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 13):
——————————————————

“Love suffers long, and is kind; love envies not; love vaunts not itself, is not puffed up,
Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not its own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil;
Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in truth;
Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. . . ”
——————————————————————-

Love (and a form of love, compassion,) is not what a teacher teaches her students, but love is, instead, what certain teachers embody as they teach curriculum. Students will observe, for themselves, the love and compassion within their teachers’ hearts, and they will be nurtured by its presence.

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
2:58 am

Students will observe, for themselves, the love and compassion within their teachers’ hearts

Mary Elizabeth, When did you turn into a propagandist? Did someone flip the “seance switch” for you? Because you’re not being very real. Now you’ve got little kids “observing adults” and looking down into the “teachers’ heart” like they’re Moses? For someone with so much background and skills, how did you suddenly skip the basics of child psychology, and “cast a spell” of children with the fully-developed higher-order skills of observation? Must be the love in action.

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
3:02 am

I think most students are more concerned with chasing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and if their pencil has a point on it so that they can draw the butterfly or do their times-table.

Funny

March 20th, 2013
7:51 am

BKM I don’t think anyone on this blog especially me, meant in any way to make your Mom sound anything but the great teacher she is. I just wanted everyone to know that while she is outstanding she is the “norm” for teachers in this state. Teachers are getting a really bad rap these days and I do not want people thinking that only a select few are doing their job. I think I would have read the essay with a different take if the orginal title had not stated that your mother alone was the heart and soul of her school. A better title would have been “Here is another example of the great teachers we have in the state of Georgia.” I hope at the AJC will learn from this essay and print more essays about ALL the wonderful educators we have in this state. I said educators to include anyone who works in a school from the lunch ladies, bus drivers, janitors, secretaries, bookkeeper,parp-pros, and the many others that I don’t have time to list. So BKM do not take these blogs personal, you know your Mom is great and have did a wonderful job defending her. Join me in encouraging the AJC to print more essay about great educators.

Mary Elizabeth

March 20th, 2013
10:44 am

@ Private Citizen, 2:58 am

Private citizen, I had taught students for 35 years and I know what I am talking about in this regard. Moreover, I had received notes from students and parents which gave testimony to the fact that my perceptions about this are accurate. As an Instructional Lead Teacher, I had observed the differing emotional dynamics between students and their teachers in grades 1 – 7. Also, I had received evaluations, myself, from administrators who could ascertain that my students responded so well to the academic content which I delivered to them because of the mutual respect and care that were present between my students and me.

How many years did you spend teaching students in public schools? I think you are simply blind, for whatever reason, regarding this very real, positive dynamic between students and their teachers, in many classrooms.

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
11:26 am

How many years did you spend teaching students in public schools?

Not 35 years, that’s for sure.

I think you are simply blind, for whatever reason, regarding this very real, positive dynamic between students and their teachers, in many classrooms.

And I think you are illustrating a certain dynamic that occurs with “star teachers.” I am little more egalitarian in my view. In my world, every teacher in the building is a “star teacher” and no one or two and their principal friend has a connect on “special mutual respect” which means, in this approach, that the other 90% are not special. You’re really advocating a values caste system where you just happen to be at the top. Professionally, it’s petty. As far as production, it’s inefficient. As far as ego, it is completely off the charts.

Maybe I’m just used to being around too many good people in the work environment. I see I have hit a nerve with you. Well, maybe that nerve needs to see the light of day and some cold air. By elevating yourself, you are treating your colleague people as “other.” There are plenty of principals who will do the two-step with you. There are also work environment where this does not happen and no one would play along with such a rigged system to plateau the appointed above their worker peers. It is really a subject of “labor management” is what we are talking about. You see it one way, where your role is at the top of the very top, and with management enabling, and I see it another way, where workers are on a level playing and competency and emotional wellness is the norm.

OriginalProf

March 20th, 2013
11:55 am

This entire blog-thread is unusually intense in its bitterness and anger directed at poor Lisa Miller; and as I think about it, the same thing happened with an earlier essay by Professor Smagorinsky about a teacher living out her faith as an educator in one of Savannah’s poorer schools. I really have come to think that what both teachers have in common is that they are black females; and what is being attacked is the characteristic black form of Protestant religious expression, so different from white Protestantism. In other words, the vehemence is explained by racism, directed at black female teachers who have been designated by their peers as superior teachers.

There are the references by Another Comment on March 18 at 8:26 pm to “Holy Roller Jesus as my Saviour stuff” and “Evangelical Christians,” none of which are to be found in the actual essay. There are these words by Private Citizen at 4:56 pm yesterday: “…“blessings” which is rather common peasant-talk in Georgia.” No, that’s common black talk, as in “have a blessed day.”

I remember another such essay of praise by Professor Smagorinsky about a white male Biology teacher that called forth nothing but congratulations from bloggers.

Ms. Miller and your son BKM, please consider the sources of these hateful words. It’s just more of the Deep Southern tradition.

Maureen Downey

March 20th, 2013
12:05 pm

@Original Prof, I have seen an odd and perverse theme. Report positively on an individual or a school and there is an immediate backlash against them. Cite schools doing better than expected and people complain they aren’t doing well enough. Cite good teachers or award-winning ones and people complain that they are not really extraordinary or the selection process was flawed.
Maureen

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
12:08 pm

This entire blog-thread is unusually intense in its bitterness and anger directed at poor Lisa Miller

There is no one directing the slightest bit of bitterness or anger toward this featured teacher, anything but. There is some discussion on ancillary topics, just as there should be. What is the “southern meme” is apology culture. And you won’t find any rich people tell you the black/white rural saying of “have a blessed day” and if you think it is only a black-culture saying, you are both faking-it and misinformed!!! Hey, get out of the house and walk the walk before you start telling people what’s happening on the street. And race-baiting to the moooon, I might add. Government / religion events been going on for centuries across continents / many heretics beheaded by the living enlightened who also happen to have the power (well, imagine that).

Prof, the only “southern tradition” going on here is your friggin massive ignorance and using race-baiting for cover.

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
12:12 pm

Prof,
Please review this link concerning the mixing of church and state. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_burned_as_heretics

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
12:18 pm

And it is a church and state matter, as you have a state professor featured two “Christ talk” government teachers. That makes three government education workers and their commending principals all doing “praise God.” Government is one thing. Church is another. When you mix the two, bad things happen.

There is one real zinger take away from this post, in the state ranked 48th in scores and such (and yes it is real, just go spend some time somewhere else where people both have a vocabulary and can do math), the one zinger is emotional wellness of the children is more important that math and reading. (You can find the quote in above comment where the “chucrch speak” is listed).

I am surprised that no one else is not more keen on the significance of this, but may it is like going to the swamp and complaining about the mosquitoes.

Mary Elizabeth

March 20th, 2013
12:20 pm

@ Original Prof, 11:55 am

“Ms. Miller and your son BKM, please consider the sources of these hateful words. It’s just more of the Deep Southern tradition.”
==========================================

I totally agree with your assessment in your 11:55 am post, Original Prof. Thank you for shining light upon some of the underlying reasons that some of the posters on this thread have communicated such bitterly hurtful and irrational remarks on a thread that was meant simply to highlight the excellence of an outstanding, caring teacher.

I hope that Lisa Miller will recognize that, although some remain blinded in their judgments by covert racism, many others applaud her outstanding efforts as a competent and caring teacher. From what I have read about Lisa Miller in Professor Smagorinsky’s excellent essay, above, I believe that she will not be negatively affected by the negative remarks on this thread because I believe that Lisa Miller has a spirit that is magnanimous enough even to forgive others their small-mindedness and bitterness, directed on this thread at her.

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
12:41 pm

although some remain blinded in their judgments by covert racism

No no no, Mary Elizabeth. I’m not going to let you to get away with that. There is no one practicing racism here. Yes, you are pulling out the “race card.” Where did that come from? You should own your own actions. And if you want to attribute to someone, then make a quote. You’re an academic and this is a printed weblog. If you are going to do something so outrageous as accuse “some” of racism, you’ve got a couple of pages to locate your “evidence.” What you are practicing is both unfair and dishonest. What you are doing is practicing “control.” Well, fine, but don’t treat people as “race” objects and call other people “racist” just because you want to direct the dialogue. There is nothing “small minded” about calling out the level of church-speech going on in this context of government school teaching, which has laws and principals about basically keeping your personal religion to yourself in the workplace as a means of respect to the autonomy of other people.

You are mistaken to be dismissive and call these observations “small minded.” Read this link if it will help you out. http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2013/03/18/griffin-spalding-teacher-lisa-miller-heart-and-soul-of-her-school/?cp=all#comment-269208

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
12:59 pm

It’s that shining hearty beacon photo of Ms Miller that allows this important discussion about mixing up government and religion.
From the photo, if I was to to “guess race,” I’d guess Aztec Indian.

Pride and Joy

March 20th, 2013
5:03 pm

Originalprof, you went way out in looney looney land when you said that posters are attacking this teacher because she is a black woman. MOST APS and Dekalb school teachers are black women, particularly in the elemetary schools.
What IS at common here is the AUTHOR, PETER.
PETER pulled out a trite cliche to describe the teacher as THE heart and soul of the school.
PETER’s STATEMENT, not the teacher or her gender or race is at issue here.
To say THE heart and soul is to say that no one else is the heart and soul.
As a parent, I resent that. As teachers, well, they felt slighted and they should feel that way. More than one teacher in a school has heart and sould(compassion and kindness.
In addition, it is FOOLISH for the author to post this quote by an admirer “You are a role model for life and your Christian values show in everything you do.”
CHRISTIAN values?
So I guess Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians are left out?
See how inflammatory that remark is?
And remember, NONE of these things were said by the teacher herself. They were quotes by others which were foolishly included by Peter.
That’s what all the hub-ub is about and personally, I don’t want any of my children’s teachers teaching through Christian values. Although I am a Christian, not all of us have the same values. My children are not the AME or Baptist Christians so I don;t want those values taught to my children.
It’s the MESSENGER, PETER, who is wrong here, certainly not the teacher.
And the backlash certainly isn’t because the teacher is a black woman.
Talk about someone locked and loaded and ready to shoot the race gun…sheesh.

OriginalProf

March 20th, 2013
6:05 pm

Lisa Miller, as the headline states, teaches in Griffin-Spalding County Schools, not APS or DeKalb. And what is wrong with her showing her Christian values, leaving out Jewish, Muslim, or non-Christian values? She’s not a Jew, Muslim, or non-Christian person! And if they were quotes by others, why do you attribute them to her? The specifically “religious” value she is said to show is “compassion,” common also to those other religions.

I stand behind what I wrote. I question why there has been such envy and hostility shown to her, in language by some that is code for “black Christians.”

Mary Elizabeth

March 20th, 2013
6:59 pm

@ OriginalProf, 6:05 pm

“I question why there has been such envy and hostility shown to her, in language by some that is code for ‘black Christians.’ ”
================================================

I question that, also, and I agree with your assessment.

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
8:37 pm

You two got some kind of race / religion head trip that you are assigning to other people. You’re really pushing stereotypes and using the teacher you so love as an object to express your own preoccupation with race. That you do this and then use it in debate is completely deplorable.

As far as the race of the person in the photo, I am guessing Inuit and that that lady can make a seal-skin canoe like nobody’s business. She sure isn’t a snooty land-grant Brit and that’s A-Okay by me.

And prof, you really need to get out of the condo and take a drive and maybe go sit in court and hear one of these “Christian fundamentalist” judges just put the coal on people. You are really really REALLY naive about how this stuff plays out in local politics and how the “higher view” is used to keep many of the people dumb and broken courtesy of the courts. Oh You got pulled over because you had a taillight out? Why that will be $400. but I tell you what, I will reduce it to $240. + expenses (note: “expenses” are $100.), if you go to church 6 times and bring me the program. By the way, what church do you do to? Are you a member of a church?”

Prof, I heard this stuff in a court within the last month or two. And you and Peter and Liza May and whoever are just removed and naive from the little local Talibans running Georgia. If you do not have to deal with it, you should HAVE A BLESSED DAY.

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
9:59 pm

Here is an instance of racism from California, in case you have forgotten what it is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuO_AXUqI0E#t-31m32s

Private Citizen

March 20th, 2013
10:01 pm

… had a typo in the link. This is the correct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuO_AXUqI0E#t=31m32s