Gary Miller is a second-grade teacher who still exchanges Christmas cards with his teacher from second-grade.
The Belleville native said his goal is to make sure the 7- and 8-year-olds in his class at Wingate Elementary School are shown the same kindness that now-retired teacher Gayle Rothley showed him almost 30 years ago.
“I always say, I don’t know all of the curriculum; I’m not the wisest teacher,” Miller said, “but I think that how I treat the kids is what goes the distance with them.”
Wingate Principal Randy Blakely recently nominated Miller for an Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award because of his connection to the students. “Every one of the kids are special to him,” Blakely said.
When he interacts with them, Miller, 35, said he’s thinking about his own children. He has two boys — a 5-year-old and his youngest is almost 3-years-old — as well as a 23-year-old stepdaughter.
“I just try to think, ‘How would I want their teacher talking to them? How would I want their teacher treating them?’” Miller said. The answer is: with respect. But modeling that behavior for students can be a challenge, he admits.
“That’s what we preach at this school: ... Act responsibly, be respectful and choose wisely. I hope that I live that even if, on the inside, maybe I don’t agree with something or a kid has been trying to push those buttons all day,” he said.
When school starts the next day, Miller said teachers can’t hold any grudges against those students.
“Each day is a fresh start,” he said. “I think that’s a hard thing in life when somebody upsets you or you feel like they did you wrong or whatever the case may be, after that, can you move past that? I just try to do that. I try to be polite and be kind to everybody and help who I can when I can.”
It’s made an impact on the second-graders he teaches: Miller said behavioral issues are a rarity in his classroom. “I hope that’s a direct result of how I treat them,” he said.
... I think that how I treat the kids is what goes the distance with them.
Gary Miller, second-grade teacher at Wingate Elementary School
Miller is among 24 local educators who were nominated for an Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award. They were honored in a ceremony Sunday afternoon, receiving an engraved crystal apple box made by premier jeweler Tiffany & Co. The awards are given to educators in the St. Louis area each year.
For Miller, he began thinking about teaching as a career thanks to his younger brother and sister. There is a 10-year age difference between him and his siblings, so Miller was able to help them with their homework and read books with them.
“I think that started to kind of push me in that direction,” Miller said.
He also worked with 4-year-olds and high schoolers as an ice hockey coach. For a while, his dream was to become a professional hockey player. Today, he’s still a fan, wearing his school ID on a St. Louis Blues lanyard and decorating his classroom with sports flags and posters.
Miller thought about a career as an athletic trainer, too, but everything fell into place when he started taking education classes at McKendree University. “I absolutely loved it,” he said. Miller earned a master’s degree and teaching certificate at the Lebanon college.
He taught at Belle Valley North and Mascoutah Elementary School before coming to Wingate. Miller said he models his teaching style on what he saw Janice Amann, a third-grade teacher at Mascoutah Elementary, doing in her classes.
“She was the first teacher in my adult life that I saw having fun and joking with the kids,” he said. “... I wanted to have fun teaching just like she did.”
And Miller said he still thinks about those teachers, like Rothley, who inspired him to do well when he was a young student.
“I couldn’t tell you what I learned necessarily in kindergarten through fourth-grade, but I could tell you their names and just how kind they are or were at that time and that has stuck with me,” he said. “And I often reflect on that and think, ‘This is the kind of teacher I want to be.’”
The following are the Emerson Excellence in Teaching award winners from the metro-east:
- Elizabeth Ammann, Lindenwood University accounting professor
- Megan Bayless, Belle Valley Middle School fifth- and sixth-grade special education teacher
- Kimberly Bossler, Whiteside Elementary School first-grade teacher
- Mark Bosworth, Southwestern Illinois College industrial technology professor
- Michael Day, O’Fallon Township High School junior history, honors history teacher
- Nichole DeWall, McKendree University literature professor
- Jessica Duffy, Millstadt Consolidated School early childhood teacher
- Vicki Fuhrhop, Collinsville High School consumer education, web and graphic design, Photoshop teacher
- Judy Glaeser, St. James Catholic School fourth-grade teacher
- James Hesse, West Junior High seventh- and eighth-grade computers teacher
- Travis Jumper, Lewis and Clark Community College welding technology professor
- Julie Kirkland, High Mount Elementary School second-grade teacher
- Sharon Logan, Marine Elementary fourth-grade teacher
- Nina Marifian, Harmony Intermediate Center fourth-grade teacher
- Nicole Marquardt, Eagleview Elementary first-grade teacher
- Amanda Mellenthin, Amelia V. Carriel Junior High School seventh-grade science teacher
- Gary Miller, Wingate Elementary second-grade teacher
- Melinda Morgan, Marissa Elementary kindergarten through sixth-grade Title English language arts teacher
- Dana Mueller, Central Elementary kindergarten teacher
- Elaine Rockemann, Shiloh Elementary School second-grade teacher
- Lori Ruebhausen, Highland elementary, middle and high schools third-grade through senior choir, musical theater, AP music theory, general music teacher
- Rosemary Schieppe, Wolf Branch Elementary School kindergarten teacher
- Johnna Wells, Bernard Long Elementary School pre-K through fifth-grade physical education teacher
- Luke Wessel, Signal Hill School freshman through senior history and physical education teacher