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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:

value-added-formula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

-anonymous

 

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…

heart-pieces

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…

 

 

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35 Responses

  1. I was one of Mr. Miller’s first sixth-grade students, and more than 12 years later I still hold onto fond memories. Since then, I’ve kind of fallen into teaching and I am in my first year teaching middle school children. I can’t help but reflect on the many teachers who have taught me so much more than the course material. I can’t help but think of ways to emulate Mr. Miller and be the best teacher I can be. I happen to teach in Spain and am inspired to pass on what he has taught me to another part of the world. Thank you, Mr. Miller.

  2. my child had Mr. Miller while at GHMS. My kid loved that class and MR. Miller. He often spoke of how Mr Miller would go out of his way to help. My kid normally is not a big fan of school and yet Mr. Miller found a way to connect with him. That is what makes a great teacher. My prayers for him and his family.
    As they say in our church May his memory be eternal

  3. I had the honor of knowing Arty Miller as a colleague for the past nine years and as a friend the last two. When I suffered the loss of my daughter in law and Rich lost his son a week apart, Arty was there for both of us with kind words and a smile. I remember the last time I saw him while working at “The Hollow”. We were in the computer lab with Rich discussing something mundane. He always made me smile with his upbeat attitude and his “it’s wonderful to be alive” demeanor. The world is short one terrific man…a great teacher, father, husband and friend. Look up in the sky tonight…the brightest star you see will be Arty smiling down at us!

  4. Having Mr.Miller as a teacher was probably the highlight of my middle school career. I woke up each morning actually excited to come to his class because in my eyes he was the funniest and coolest guy around. Even after graduating middle school I still always said he was the best and number one teacher of all time. I’ve seen him at the avengers movie premear a few years ago and it brought a smile to my face seeing him once again and being about to talk to him after so long. I never would have thought In a million years that was the last time as well, hearing about what has happened to him really just left me with this weird feeling inside. Iknow he will never be forgotten and I know he will be missed as well. You’re still number 1 Arty and you always will be. Rest easy old friend

  5. My heart was broken when I got a text from my daughter last night. It simply said “Mr. Miller passed away.” My reaction was immediate: “I’m sorry —, are you okay?” I knew how much Mr. Miller meant to her and knew that she would struggle with this loss. My daughter is in 11th grade and had Mr. Miller 5 years ago. He remains her all time favorite teacher, in contention against some stiff competition. She and her close friends had the pleasure of being in his class, spent countless lunch periods with him, helped him break down his classroom and visited him just this summer. I dropped them off and greeted him outside the school. I waited and waited for the text to say when they would be ready to be picked up…but they had no interest in leaving. Time with Mr. Miller was a gift with which they did not want to part. I am so grateful that both of my children had the pleasure of being exposed to such a wonderful teacher and human being. His heart was enormous and his impact remains infinite. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

  6. I know you are not making this about you but before I speak about the amazing Mr Miller I must take the time to say what a wonderful teacher you are. There is no better time than the present. My 2 sons both talked about how they hoped to have you for a teacher, but my daughter was the only one lucky enough to have you. You too have that gift to draw the students in and make them want to be in yor classroom. I guess that’s a part of why you and Mr Miller were such good friends. I don’t recall if I ever told Mr Miller how much my kids adored him, so I’m taking the time to tell you how much you are loved by your students.
    All 3 of my children had the good fortune of having Mr Miller as a social studies teacher. I clearly remember meet the teacher with my oldest son. Mr Miller had such enthusiasm and the warmest smile. I instantly liked him and knew my son was in great hands. I spent time with him on the 6th grade trip and he made me feel like we had been friends for years. I wrote letters when other my other 2 children were in 5 grade requesting that they too would have the opportunity to start off middle school right and be taught by Mr Miller. All 3 of my children absolutely adored him. Whenever I was up at school Mr Miller would come over to me to ask how my other children were, and also how I was doing. He was very excited when I told him my son was going to Cortland. He talked about going up to visit there again. Last time I saw him was in June at my daughters moving up ceremony. True to form he came over to me after the ceremony to say hello. He talked about it being my last time at the school. He was such a warm man and always seemed interested in what you had to say. He had the gift to reach both students and adults in a way that very few can. Last night my daughter came into the room with tears in her eyes, barely able to speak, and told us Mr Miller had passed away. My 2 sons, 17 and 20 who aren’t very emotional just stared at me with such loss and pain as they both uttered “oh my god that’s terrible. He was my favorite teacher”. I am taking the time to write this because I’m not sure I ever told Mr Miller how much my children loved him. I am still in a state of shock because I honestly thought he would beat this. I want his family to know how truly special he was to this community and how he will be truly missed

  7. I can’t even begin to explain how Mr.Miller touched all his students lives. He always put them first. You could see it in his eyes, if he was having a bad day, he put on a big smile and cranked the jokes out just to put a smile and a laugh on some little kids face to brighten their day. He is far beyond any other teacher I have ever had. He is one of the greatest people I have had the honor of meeting in my life. He was, mine as well as countless others, FAVORITE teacher. We never were upset or not looking forward to going to class, we were always in our chairs, at our tables, the first second we could get into the classroom. Mr.Miller always tried to make us do our best, he could tell when we weren’t giving our work, our all. I remember a long time ago, a girl being scared of the “Iceman” and Mr.Miller noticed this and made it better by cheering her up with jokes and other funny things. He was one of the VERY FEW teachers that I have ever had that cared more about teaching and his students, then ANY other teacher. I can count one hand how many teachers had an important impact on my life, and it is very few. He is the first one I count, every time. Mr.Miller cared for every student he ever had the chance to meet, if they were in his class at the time the bell rang, or just a kid that walked past his door on their way to class. Everyone knew him and everyone who did, loved him. His lessons still follow me to this day and I am so grateful. There was a time when I was scared and Mr.Miller understood my situation and helped me through it. There is no words I could ever write or say to convey how thankful I am to have known him and had a chance to have him in my life. All I can say is thank you for always being there and alway willing to lend an ear. He gave great advice that will last a lifetime. He is the greatest teacher I have ever had and I can guarantee I will never meet a teacher better than he was. Great Hollow and the whole town of Smithtown, lost an amazing, respectable, intelligent, compassionate, helpful, supportive, determined, positive…(the list goes on and on) man, husband, father, friend, and teacher.

  8. My entire family is heartbroken over the loss of Mr. Miller. He brought such energy and enthusiasm to the classroom! My son Nick was lucky enough to have him for both ELA and Social Studies 4 years ago and formed a lasting bond. Mr. Miller took the time to know all his students and went above and beyond to reach each one. Just 2 months into the 6th grade school year, my son approached me saying he wanted to dress up like Mr. Miller for Halloween. I asked if he was sure it would be taken as a sign of admiration and Nick said, don’t worry mom, Mr. Miller gets me! Long after Nick left the 6th grade he would talk about stopping by his class after school to chat and still remembers that he wrote him a hall pass on a goldfish cracker. To all his students he will forever be rated extraordinary. Thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.

  9. my prayers are with his family. my son had Mr. Miller and that year was definitely a difficult one. my son was going through losing a family member and was struggling. of course this affected him in school. He wasn’t doing as well as he could and would act out sometimes. Mr. Miller never gave up
    on him. Other teachers were not so nice. I could see how easily a student can be labeled “bad” or whatever term they use. Mr. Miller didnot think like that. he cared, he knew my son was going through something because he took the time to speak with me and email me and help. He would call me monthly and go over how he was doing in class and when I had some personal health issues he even tried to help me come up with ideas on how to get my son on track in school. he was very caring and compassionate. I never felt like he judged me when spoke or my child to be honest he was the only teacher I felt comfortable speaking with. He would tell me how much potential My son had and that he knew he was really a great kid. I learned a lesson that year also that not all teachers are alike. and from personal experience NOT all teachers cared the way Mr. Miller did. He cared about the students who weren’t the best in class or easiest to teach along with the others. Not all teachers are like that. that same year I had a different teacher call my son stupid and also insult me as a parent. Mr. Miller wasn’t an average teacher. he was what other teachers should strive for. I don’t care about numbers. he had results, because he connected with his students and he truly cared. I don’t know one kid who didn’t enjoy being in his class and getting kids to like school is not an easy task. This is a tragedy to loss such a wonderful person and educator.

  10. There are a lot of people who could speak about Arty more deeply than I can. But for the small moments I had with him, the loss is still palpable. Whenever we saw each other he would stop to talk to me. Not just say hello and keep going. He would talk to me and seem so happy to see me. And like I said we didn’t know each other that well. Doesn’t that say something? Arty was that kind to someone he didn’t know very well at all. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who needs it. And of course with Arty… The guy who didn’t just walk on by.

  11. Cathy and I saw Mr. Miller a few years ago, and had the opportunity to tell him about how well Andrew was doing, and how Mr Miller was such an influence in his life. I am thankful that we had the opportunity to tell him so.

    I’ve taken the liberty to poke around on the web and have but and paste some of the comments students have made about Mr Miller over the years. The consistency of the message is a true and telling story about a wonderful man, teacher and inspirational leader. These are the words of his student.

    8/24/12 – Mr.Miller waas the best 6th gradee teacher(: hes like oneee of the students ! ill neveer forget him … wissh he was teaching 8th(;

    02/17/12 – he was my favorite teacher ever and he gave us all nicknames I’m furple, lol and i miss his class a lot 7th grade stinks without him.

    05/14/11 – Mr Miller = Awesome Teacher

    03/31/11 – One of the best teachers in the school

    03/18/11 – MR. MILLER MAKES ME BURST OUT AND LAUGH EVERY SINGLE
    DAY!!!!! HE WILL ALWAYS BE THE BEST TEACHER ON PLANET EARTH!!!!!!!!!!!

    03/17/11 – MR MILLER HE IS SOOOO AWESOME YAY!

    11/08/10 – he made social studies fun he was really good and he gave everyone nicknames

    09/25/10 – he is awesome

    09/22/10 – He is the best teacher ever!!! He even has a funny nickname for me.

    02/03/10 – Mr. Miller is pretty good so far and is very funny and nice!

    07/15/09 – he was one of my best teachers…i gotta visit him next year. – vanilla mennella LOL

    03/30/09 – He is a hard working teacher makes sure you are unstanding what your doing.

    03/27/09 – I think hes the best teacher I ever had. He’s makes he’s work fun. 3

    03/25/09 – Mr. Miller… coolest teacher ever ive been visiting him for 2 years and he still rembers me from the first day of 6th grade best teacher

    02/21/09 – ok mr miller is amazing and he was my favorite teacher!..he helped me through soo muchhhh!

    10/13/08 – MR MILLER IS A GREAT TEACHER. HES VERY HELPFUL

  12. Well said Mr. Specht….Our hearts are broken and so so very sad for the loss of Mr. Miller. Both my children were so blessed to have had him. They are sickened with grief. My daughter Francesca had formed such a special bond with him through out middle school she ate lunch with him just about every day for 7th & 8th grade and had continued to keep in touch since she had moved up to HSE. I am so grateful for that. Its rare that someone comes into your life through an ordinary situation and can leave such an extraordinary impression. In trying to console my children I explained to them how lucky they were to have known him, to have had a Mr. Miller! He was rare, and all the memories they have with him and how there are so many people who have never had a Mr. Miller! in their lives! to cherish every minute of every day and to aspire to be like him….all heart! and that would make his legacy live on because lord knows the world is in desperate need of more Mr. Millers. I sent him an e-mail last year thanking him for going above and beyond with my children and how he was the definition of a GREAT teacher. His reply was: “stop, stop, stop I am not sure I am so deserving of such kind words, I am just doing my thing!” We love you Mr. Miller! you have touched our hearts and the hearts of so many. You will be greatly missed! May you rest in peace until we meet again! Love, Lisa, Chizzy and Anthony xo

  13. rich- i think these messages say it all- artys legacy will live on forever in the hearts and lives of all of the many students that he touched over the years as well as the staff he worked with. his children need people like you, because you are not afraid to speak your heart- i know that your heart will be with his family as they continue to grow. god bless you all.

  14. It breaks my heart and brings me to tears to know that Mr. Miller is gone… Mr. Miller was not your average teacher by any means! He was my inspiration in becoming a teacher and bring the heart into the classroom! I cannot remember ever going to his class with anything but a smile on my face, because he made learning fun and exciting. Mr Miller was and still is a huge part of who I am and the teacher that I want to be! I refuse to become a statistic or a number on an evaulation, even in this difficult time for teachers I will strive to break the mold in honor of Mr Miller…he genuinely cared for each and every one of his students, even once they had left his classroom! I had reached out to Mr Miller last year to catch up and express my gratitude for his inspiration and guidance and I remember him saying how he was not the inspiration but his students were and that proves just how much heart he had in teaching! It wasn’t for him, he did it all for his students and I am proud to say that he was my teacher and the reason I am teaching today! Rest in peace Mr Miller you will NEVER be forgotten

    – “honda”

  15. I don’t think I can put I to words what an amazing teacher miller was he was my teacher for two years if I had it my way I would have chosen to have him as a teacher every single year. Luckily he never stopped teaching me. In my yearbook he wrote that he’d always be there for me. He was. From 11 years old to 23 years old miller constantly taught me how to be a better person. From the time I was 12 I wanted to be miller I wanted to teach 7th grade history that was my big dream. He constantly supported me told me I’d make a wonderful teacher…when I got to highschool and college he allowed me to sit in on his classes. I wasn’t surprised every child in his classroom looked at him the way I did when I sat as a student in his classroom…smiling, excited, shocked that they were enjoying class and grateful that the last one ended and they’re finally in his classroom. It was all over every single one of their faces. I was in awe that he could have the same effect he had on me on every student he’s ever taught…it blew my mind. As I got to college and I sat in his class a few more times of course nothing had changed he loved what he did and it was obvious. I was taking early child development with a professor who had explained all the guidelines that teachers were facing all the numbers and rules and judgements that teachers of all grades were facing. I got so angry and I spoke to miller and said I refuse to become a number on a piece of paper how could anyone judge a teacher based off children’s test grades I remember his big smile and told me if never become a statistic but unfortunately that’s what has been happening in the teaching world. I told him I couldn’t do it I couldn’t go and put all of myself into something that would judge me like that I mean I wanted to be miller I wanted to make people feel good about themselves and although I changed my career he still supported me, understood me and wanted the best for me. The teaching world will never be the same he was one of a kind..he was my teacher but became my friend and was constantly inspiring me and others around him…I still can’t believe he’s gone.

  16. Plain and Simple: Mr. Miller was NOT average!! He was a gift we were lucky enough to have – if even for a short while. Oh how I wish the average teacher was like Mr. Miller! He will be missed by the ones who had the privilege to know him. 🙁

  17. I am actually in tears after last night finding out the news and now once again I am as I read this in study hall. Mr. Miller will always have a special place in my heart not only because he was the best teacher who sparked my interest in social studies but because of the man with a huge heart I got to know everyday while I say in his 3rd period social studies class. he would make everyone comfortable enough in class to answer a question he even was the one who made me break out of my shell and I will always remember that. but my heart mainly aches for you, mr. spect and his family. this is because I remeber days when you would come into my class that he taught and he would go on and on about how his great friend mr spect could draw really cool pictures on the chalk board. also he had brought in his two sons to class before and even when he would talk about his baby girl and wife you could tell how much he loved his family and his family loved him. this is why my heart is so heavy thinking about the sadness his students and I feel from him just being our teacher, therefore I can’t begin to imagine what you and his family feel. my prayers go out to You all.

  18. My children did not have the honor of being students of Mr. Miller and, to
    be honest, I hadn’t heard of him until I began seeing the outpouring of love and prayers that our community has shown these past few weeks. You describe him so vividly that I feel as if I knew him. His passing is so, so tragic and I will have you and his family in my thoughts and prayers. May his passion for teaching and his commitment to his students be his legacy and may his colleagues pay forward the joy and true love for learning that he shared with the students he taught.

  19. He was the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. I remember him always taking interest in my interests and kept pushing me to follow my dreams and to be myself. His class always put a smile on my face and I always knew I would have fun and laugh in his class. He went above and beyond what the average teacher would do. He helped me break out of my shell and be confident in who I was. He always supported me in my goals and dreams and would encourage me to do things that I was too shy to do. He radiated the most positive energy that was so contagious, you could see everyone around him were happy. I remember him walking into class on the first day with his blonde tip hair and earring and I remember thinking “man this guy is cool”. I didn’t even like social studies, but he made it so much fun and interesting. I can’t believe I woke up today without him in this world. My heart is empty and the world seems a little darker without him. I am so grateful that I ran into him a few years ago and got to tell him just how much he meant to me and how much he shaped me into the person I am today. My prayers are with his family and friends.

    • What a beautiful testament to Mr. Miller. He was every child’s favorite teacher. My daughter Lisa, (now a college junior) had Arty for three periods a day sixth grade. She was inspired by him beyond words. He encouraged her to allow him to submit a work of hers to be published in a book of young poets. What an honor for her and us. Last March, while she was on break, she went to visit her beloved teacher. He was so thrilled to see her and pulled out her portfolio that he has kept for many years. He showed her the copy of the book in which her poem appeared that she had given to him as a gift. It was all safely tucked away on his shelf and he knew exactly where to find it. He was a gift to his students. He made EVERY child feel that he/she was his favorite,snd most talented student he ever taught. I’m so glad she had the chance to spend time with him that day. It meant so much to her and I think to him too. Rest in Peace Mr. Miller. You will never be forgotten.

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