What is a teacher?  How do you measure the effect they have on the countless numbers of children whose live’s that teacher touches?  How can I look back on the career of my dearly departed friend, Arty Miller, and properly evaluate his role as a teacher in our community?

Our government and pencil pushing bureaucrats think they have the answer, and it looks like this:











According to the bureaucrats and policymakers who dictate education policy, we can effectively measure the worth of a teacher in a calculation that is more complex than Erwin Schrödinger’s differential equation which explains the quantum nature of matter and light (see HERE if you wish to get an idea).  You can, apparently, boil the life’s work of an educator down to a single number.  A good teacher, according to those who don’t teach, can be quantified.  Tell that to my friend Arty…

Over the past 14 years I have been blessed with having the opportunity to be friends with a man whose dedication to my profession was beyond compare.  From my first glimpse of him rolling his “wheelie bag” down the hallways of our middle school – until the last day I sat with him in his room last June, I saw an educator who made a real difference in the lives of all those who sat in his room 180+ days a year.  Whether it be dressing up in traditional Chinese attire to teach about his experience in China and the “China Ship” (inside joke), or his daily, boisterous greeting of his students with “GOOD MORNING CLASS!!!” – and their equally enthusiastic reply “GOOD MORNING, MR. MILLER”, my friend always went above and beyond.  Even after 14 years of teaching, Arty would confide in me that he still spent hours EVERY night, grading papers, writing lesson plans and putting together presentations for his classes.  He could not grasp how I actually had nights where I did not have to do any school work.  For 14 years he asked me for my secret to cutting down on my workload, and for 14 years I was too afraid to admit that I wished I had his level of commitment…

While at school, Arty was a teacher first and everything else came second.  But what is a teacher?  What makes a good teacher and why was my friend the very best one I have ever had the pleasure of knowing?  Simple.  It’s heart.  His was unmatched and bigger than anyone else I have known in my 39 years.  You can’t measure heart.  There is no metric that can adequately define it or quantify it.  My friend was all heart.  That is why he was such a great teacher.  Ask any student who had him and the answer is the same:  “Mr. Miller was the best.”.  No doubt.  The best.

Someone once shared with me this “poem” about a good teacher:

a good teacher:

is kind

is generous

listens to you

encourages you

has faith in you

has time for you

keeps confidences

shares their love

takes time to explain

is a helper

tells you how you are doing

allows you to have your say

does not give up on you, ever

values your opinion

makes you feel clever, imaginative and worthwhile

stands up for you

tells the truth

is forgiving



My friend Arty Miller was all of these things and more.  There is no equation that can measure that.  Notice that poem does not mention data, or numbers? Why not? Simple: There is no test a child can take that can demonstrate the effect a great teacher like my friend has.  My heart is breaking – and has been for some time now, that our profession is moving in a direction that values numbers above all else.  Arty often shared his frustrations with me over this.  He never spoke out.  He never complained.  He soldiered on and accepted every rating he received, and yes – many of them told a different story about his ‘effectiveness” than you would think… yet he kept doing the best he could.  Arty confided in me on more than one occasion that he wasn’t sure he could keep going on teaching, not because of his students, not because of his workload, but because of a system that seemed to take more and more heart and soul out the profession he had poured ALL OF HIS into.

My friend Arty was the best teacher I have ever known, and every student who sat in his class can corroborate that. If I were not here to share that, and if you went by the rating system that he was judged under, he would just show up as another average educator.  My friend Arty wasn’t average.  He was the best.  He is what every teacher should be.  My friend was all heart and his teaching was testament to that.  You don’t have to take my word for it though.  All the evidence you need to see that truth is the sadness and devastation his loss has created in our community.  I would share with you EVERY note, comment and post that parents, students and fellow teachers shared with me over the past two weeks, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to it.

In the wake of the loss of my only son, I started a movement to make the world a little kinder.  We are well on our way to our goal.  I now have an added mission, to advocate for all the Arthur Millers out there who never had the chance to say how they feel our profession is being usurped by profit driven, data hungry, heartless bureaucrats who are sucking the heart and soul out of the profession he dedicated his life to.  I  know how you measure a good teacher.  You compare them to my friend, Arty.  There is no equation that can do that.  His life’s work was more than just a number.  How do you measure heart?  You don’t.  You feel it.  You see  it.  You experience it.  My friend understood this.  The reason he was the best is because he was all about that which is inherently immeasurable.  I didn’t just lose a best friend… the world lost a great teacher.  Arty didn’t break the mold for being a good teacher: He IS THE MOLD for being a good teacher.  Don’t let the numbers fool you.  You can’t measure heart…


I love you, my friend. Rest in piece.  I will never be able to walk down into your classroom again to share a story or give you advice.  The world many of us woke up into this morning is a diminished one.  I vow to make sure we work towards making it a better one, in your name.  Godspeed Arty… heaven’s gain is our loss.

If your life was touched by Arty, please share below in our comments.  Let’s show “them” that my friend was more than a number…





35 Responses

  1. All three of my sons had Mr. Miller in 6th grade. Each of them had a different relationship with Mr. Miller because Mr. Miller knew how to reach each student as an individual. He was there for my sons through a difficult time in their lives. Its comforting for children to know that when they get to school everything will be okay because of that special teacher. Hands down, all three of my sons, Joe, Kevin & Ryan have always said “Mr. Miller is the best teacher to ever have”. They continued to visit him as they moved on, my oldest know in college. In June all three of my boys were with Mr. Miller at my youngest son’s graduation from Great Hollow. Mr. Miller requested a picture with the Simmons’ Boys & we have that lasting memory, unfortunately the boys never had the chance to bring him the picture as they planned. As a parent, I will forever be grateful for the experience each of my sons had being in Mr. Miller’s class and for the welcome visits he always accepted from each of them. I am glad that on more than one occasion I was able to tell Mr. Miller exactly how adored he was by the entire Simmons Family. I am sad for all of the students whose hearts ache over the loss of a beloved teacher, but I am also saddened for all of the students who will never have the opportunity to know the greatness this teacher had to offer.

  2. Both my son and daughter had Mr Miller when they were in 6th grade. We all know what a special teacher and person he was. My daughter, now in High School, would go back to visit with Mr. Miller several times a year with her friends. She will miss these visits with her favorite teacher. We were all lucky to have Mr. Miller in our school system as one of our teachers. Students and parents will miss him. I know we do.

  3. Me and My best friends had Mr.Miller and honestly he is the best teacher i have ever had. He is the one person think of when I hear my favorite quote by Charlie Chaplin “A day without Laughter is a Day waisted” he had that poster in his room and thats where I first heard it. Mr. Miller is one of the few people who never took anything for granted. In 6th grade I had given him my favorite King Tut Kookie pen and he clipped it on his backpack, later on in 9th grade when I visited my favorite teacher he still had that King Tut Kookie pen and i said in shock “You still have this!?” And he said “of course why wouldnt I?” I wonder if he still had it clipped on his backpack and I hope he knew how much me and all of his students looked up to him.

  4. The world needs more Mr. Millers!!! Just hearing people talk about how wonderful he was and reading the same, it IS a shame that the teachers are being judged on scores and not impact on students lives. An elementary teacher recently told me at a nail salon (while a little boy was acting up and running around) that the person you are molded into is more importsnt than a number grade. She asked me if I were interviewing someone for a career, would I choose the boy who had no respect for his surroundings and a good grade or someone like my daughter who was speaking to her politely and with respect and manners and possibly a lesser grade? People are judged and scored but manners and respect go a longer way in real life. Mr. Miller sounds like the teacher who taught a child how to treat someone, amongst many other valuable life lessons and humanity is becoming scarce with this generation. It is truly sad that someone who apparently touched lives and was such a wonderful person was taken much too young from his students and family and friends.
    My heart goes out to his wife and children, family, students, colleagues & friends. When they say teachers touch lives, clearly he did.

  5. Mr. Miller, you are irreplaceable. There is no one else I know who loved teaching and loved his family more than Mr. Miller. I was one of his students about 9 years ago. I helped throw a surprise baby shower for him with some of my classmates when we found out that he was going to have his first son, Jake. I’ll never forget how excited he was when he told us that he was having a kid! I’ve always thought that I’d like to marry someone one day like that, who loves his kids and wife as much as he did!

    He didn’t just love his family, he loved all of his students too. Really. We would go up to his classroom everyday during lunch and just hang out and talk. He made a point to make event the quietest student feel important and welcomed. He would come to events outside of school too, bat mitzvahs, dances, anything to show support.

    Mr. Miller, I will miss you! I hope we will meet again someday. Thank you for making such a great difference in all of our lives while you were here. I will do my best to honor your memory by striving to make the world a little better, like you. God bless you.

  6. I knew who Mr. Miller was when the buzz around in Tackan for all the kids going to Great Hollow was “You want to get on Mr. Miller’s team..that is the team you want because he is the greatest.” Although my kids never had Mr. Miller, I had the pleasure of meeting him on June 1, 2012. Deanna’s friends rallied in her time of need when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and organized a fundraiser at Ralph’s for The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in her name. The teachers were asked if they would scoop ice cream for the kids. The first two people to get there were Mr. Specht (who was Deanna’s teacher at that time) and Mr. Miller. I went up to Mr. Miller introduced myself and said, “Wow! You are the first one here! I want to thank you for volunteering to do this even though you never had my kids in your class.” He looked right at me and said “I am the first one here, and I will be the last to leave. I will do anything I can to help. How is she feeling?” I looked at him and thought, that is one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. His words were sincere and heartfelt. That day in June, behind the counter at Ralph’s, I learned who Mr. Miller really was, caring, kind and generous. Mr. Miller helped all, family, friends, students and strangers. Quoting Mr. Specht, “Because that is who Artie was.” My sincerest condolences to Mrs. Miller and his children.

  7. All 3 of my sons had the pleasure of Mr. Miller and the awesome Team C. When I informed my oldest son ( now in 10th grade) that Mr. Miller had passed he seemed to take it in stride. When I went to check on him a few minutes later I found him intently rummaging through his closet which contained a file with old schoolwork. When I questioned as to what he was looking for he stated, ” I’ll let you know when I find it.” He came into the kitchen a few minutes later with tears running down his face. He was unable to find a paper from Mr. Miller’s class. This paper contained my sons name and had been circulated through the class whereas all his classmates were instructed to write something positive about the person. Of course Mr. Miller added his comment as well. As I hugged and consoled my son I gently tapped him on his head and said” This is where you hold all of your memories of Mr.Miller, you will never lose that.” then I tapped his heart. ” This is where Mr. Miller will be with you forever.” My heart is so heavy for my sons and every person who is mourning the loss of our beloved Mr. Miller. May your family, friends, co- workers, students and anybody who has had the pleasure to know you find the strength to console their pain with the memory of you and the fullness of their hearts because of you. You will forever be in our hearts.

    • Dan’s the same Susan. He’s having a really hard time. It breaks my heart and at the same time I’m so thankful that they had a teacher like Mr. Miller in their lives. xoxoxo

  8. Dear Mr. Specht,
    We are truly sorry for the loss of your dear friend! As you said, Mr. Miller’s passing is a loss to the entire Smithtown community and teaching profession! You have truly honored Mr. Miller with your words and your new mission. My husband and I are both educators, and we whole heartedly agree with your opinion on what a good teacher truly is. There is no test or measure that can quantify it; it lies in the hearts and souls of those we teach. It is immeasurable, and at the same time, invaluable! Although none of my children ever had the pleasure of having Mr. Miller (my youngest was supposed to have him this year), his reputation as an amazing teacher resonated throughout the community. He touched so many young lives as witnessed by the outpouring of sadness both in school and on social media sites frequented by students over the last few days. My youngest was so looking forward to having him this year, and we were looking forward to her being in his class! Our heart goes out to his family! I hope they find comfort in the fact that he made such a huge difference in this world! He will not be forgotten! His memory and his kindness and love live on in the hearts and souls of his students and those whose lives he touched!

  9. My son has spent the last 2 days going from crying to feeling angry. Mr. Miller was his favorite teacher. As a 6th grade boy who was nervous and unsure walking into Mr. Miller’s room was the greatest gift anyone could get. He was magical…he was electric. The kids gravitated towards him. My older daughters didn’t have Mr. Miller but they’d stop and see him or just sit in his room because they knew he cared. When I had finally met him at back to school night it was clear in that short time we had as parents to sit in his room why. He bounced around the room as excited to speak to parents as my son had been to tell me that he had met his favorite teacher that year. Mr. Miller laughed and told us that he hadn’t been the best student when he was younger but look at him now…teaching our children. He beamed. As a teacher myself I sat in awe. Teachers like Mr. Miller make the rest of us look good. It’s never about the numbers…EVER. Teachers like Arty Miller raise our level of commitment and energize entire buildings…entire communities. It’s a shame that we don’t take the time to celebrate that until it’s too late. I can only hope our community takes the time to properly remember Mr. Miller and step forward and realize that the Mr. Miller’s in our lives should be held up every single day as true Superheros.

  10. Mr, Specht you have truly honored your friend! Your website has become such a source of comfort to all of the students and families that truly loved Mr. Miller. So many have been touched by him and it is hard to get past the sadness we all feel. I pray that his family can find the strength to get through this. His spirit will come alive through his 3 children and they will continue his legacy. He truly touched so many. Last year my daughter Jillian came home so happy everyday. She always had a Mr. Miller story. She was always laughing in his class and earned them name silly jilly from him. There’s not many people who can bring a smile to your face everyday. And that’s why he was a gift to the teaching profession. His students couldn’t get enough of him he always made them feel important. My daughter will always have the best memories of her 6 th grade experience because of him. They were like a family. She was invited to spend the last day of school with him and a few other girls . They helped him clean up and get ready for summer break, followed by a pizza lunch. I remember picking her up that afternoon and she got in the car and said she was really going to miss Mr Miller and I remember saying I know but you were so lucky to have him and you have so many great memories. And now that is the only comfort we all have …Our lives were blessed because we knew him!

  11. I can’t help but think that Arty was a friend to everyone he knew. He was someone who I could easily talk to, and let go in a way that would make me know that I could share it all with him. He was goofy, but in a cool way that made me feel like I was the only one in the room. Every person that knew him knows what I mean. Rich, your writing is eloquent and precisely reveals who Arty was in a way that touched me.

    He was my friend and taught me so much about what is important about teaching. He is the best example of living in the moment with kids that I will ever have. He is the benchmark of “love of career” that we can ever know.He is also a terrific example of a gentle-man. Everyone should look to him to set an example of who we can be. Girls, let him set the standard for what a male friend should be – kind,supportive, courteous,decent, caring, genuine, and nonjudgmental. Do not settle for less. Boys, look to Arty and aspire to be the honest, loving, dedicated man he was to every person he met. Let him inspire us all into be better people.

    I miss him and the cave we are all living in needs the light of Arty to guide us everyday.

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