Teacher’s book explores good and bad of professionNathan Miller is 11 years into a teaching career he once wasn’t sure would last longer than a year. He’s seen the good and bad that comes with the job — the thrills of helping students learn and the frustration of students that can’t or won’t do the work.
By: Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages
Nathan Miller is 11 years into a teaching career he once wasn’t sure would last longer than a year. He’s seen the good and bad that comes with the job — the thrills of helping students learn and the frustration of students that can’t or won’t do the work. He’s made lasting connections with students and been afraid for his safety when a student threatened him as the result of a conversation that started with something as simple as Miller asking the student to watch his language in the halls.
Now Miller, an English teacher at Rosemount High School, is sharing his experiences and his perspective with the world. His first book, Teaching in Circles: My Journeys in Teaching High School, was published earlier this year.
For Miller, the books stands as a kind of middle ground among the books usually found in education. It’s in there somewhere between the textbooks that teachers use in their classrooms and the kinds of inspirational memoirs that get turned into movies about inner-city teachers reaching groups of troubled teens.
Miller doesn’t consider himself an inspiration. He experiences frustrations and wonders sometimes whether he picked the right profession. It’s that kind of average teacher’s perspective Miller hopes the book portrays.
There are what Miller describes as brutally honest stories about the best and the worst parts of his job. Chapters have titles like Ultra-Negative Me, Toxic Julie and Settling.
Miller doesn’t shy away from his sometimes ambivalent feelings about his chosen profession. He writes that he loves his job now and then, that he despises it a little too often and that he’s often just too tired to care.
“There’s not a lot out there about people who are just struggling day to day,” Miller said. “I approached it with the mindset of, I’m not sure if I’m doing a good job or not. I’m not sure if I should be teaching.”
The project started four years ago as assignment in Miller’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing. He started writing about his experiences as a teacher. The more he put down the more he discovered he had to say.
“I started out writing for myself,” he said. “Teachers are constantly reflecting on how they’re doing. For me, that just really went well. I started to share it with people and people who weren’t even teachers wanted more.”
Some parts of the book are as old as four years. Others were written earlier this year.
Once the work was finished the process of getting it published went quickly. Miller found an agent willing to represent him last October, had an editor interested by November and by January had signed a contract. The book went to press in May and so far has been selling well.
“It’s very exciting,” Miller said. “I’ve had a lot of fun hearing from people what they think of it.”
Miller said he’s had former students come back to RHS to have him sign copies of the book.
“Students and parents are just as enthusiastic about it as other teachers, which is gratifying,” Miller said.
One of Miller’s goals when he started writing the pieces that became his book was to figure out whether he was in the right job. His conclusion?
“I came up with, I’m doing OK today and I should be doing it now and don’t worry about tomorrow,” he said.