Monday was “I Love Mrs. Miller Day” as Anna Miller, a speech and language pathologist at Harmony Elementary School, was recognized as one of the state’s Teachers of the Year.
Congratulations were expressed through signs inside and outside the school and with personal notes, virtual hugs, a brief ’80s music dance party and a few treats in the teachers’ lounge.
Miller and others in the Milton School District learned Friday she is one of five public school teachers to earn the designation.
For Miller, the announcement was unexpected but exciting.
“It’s a huge honor,” she said.
Shortly after hearing the news, she posted this on social media: “It feels SO undeserved because it’s our teams that make us our best, but I’ll sure do whatever I can to live up to such an honor. I work with some pretty amazing people who do incredible things for kids every day!”
In February, Miller and Milton Middle School language arts teacher Jessica Fetting learned they had been granted 2021 fellowships from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation. Each received a $6,000 grant, and each recipient’s school received a matching $6,000 grant.
“We are looking at having communication boards installed at all of our playgrounds and would like to provide materials for the general education classrooms that support speech and language development,” Miller said.
She said a portion of her personal grant will be used to build up the district’s supply of books, toys and other materials for preschool play groups.
Each year, the Kohl Teacher Fellowship program recognizes 100 educators in Wisconsin who have demonstrated teaching and professional development excellence. From this group, Miller and others were chosen for the state’s top award.
Miller learned she had been chosen for the award during a Zoom meeting that included state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor.
As a Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, Miller will receive an additional $3,000 personal grant from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation. One of the five Wisconsin Teachers of the Year will be chosen to represent the state in the national Teacher of the Year program. The winner will receive an additional $6,000 personal grant.
According to Mark Mueller, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction education consultant, a year of recognition will be followed by years of service as an educational leader.
“We consider the Teacher of the Year award to be a doorway, not a destination,” he said.
Initially, Miller was nominated for the fellowship by a parent, which she said made the recognition especially meaningful. Once she was nominated, next steps included obtaining letters of recommendation in support of her fellowship candidacy.
Harmony Principal Sarah Stuckey, who was among those who penned nomination letters, wrote, “Anna is the key to opening doors for these (students) to become more confident and better understood when communicating with their peers and family members. She matches her instruction and delivery to the learning styles and strengths of her students.”
In addition to working with Harmony students who receive speech and language services, Miller teaches the school district’s 3-year-old speech students in a play-based program she developed.
“The speech and language play group was designed to integrate therapy goals into more natural interactions,” Miller said. “For 3-year-olds, that means play. We include a brief ‘circle time,’ read books, dance and sing, and have lots of time to play.”
Student goals are incorporated into the activities. During playtime, students rotate to partake in one-on-one therapy with Miller.
While Miller’s role is specific to speech and language services, Stuckey described her as a familiar and friendly teacher for all.
“She is in and out of many classrooms to observe her students and provide support,” Stuckey said. “Children often ask their teachers when it will be their turn to go to her room—even if they are not students with speech and language needs.”
Miller began her career teaching first and second grade at a parochial school on an Apache reservation in Arizona. There, if students needed extra help, they had to attend a different school.
“It really broke my heart to watch the kids who needed the most help being sent to someone else,” she said. “I wanted to be that person.”
After Miller married and had children of her own, she earned a Master’s degree in communication disorders and sciences from UW-Whitewater to, in fact, become “that person.”
“There is truly nothing better than to help a child do something for the first time that they didn’t realize they could do,” she said. “I love the problem-solving that comes with teaching. It’s incredibly rewarding to find the strategy or tool that makes the difference for a student.”
She said she especially loves the collaboration between students, parents, classroom teachers and other specialists.
“We really have exceptional teams making things happen at Milton,” she added.
When asked how she inspires a love of learning, she replied, “I believe it’s all about relationships. I want my students to know I’m in their corner and want to see them be their very best. I love hearing about their families, friends, pets, likes, dislikes, extra activities, weekend plans, etc. I know that what I ask my students to do is hard, but when I can pull their interests into our activities and make learning fun, they don’t always realize how hard they are working.”
In a news release Friday, Milton School District Superintendent Rich Dahman said, “This award is very well-deserved, since Anna is an outstanding educator. She continually does whatever is needed to creatively and positively make a significant impact on the lives of Milton students.”