When JoAnn Miller started classes at UW-Green Bay in the late 1990s, math was a challenge.
The subject never had been Miller’s strong suit. And now, as a returning adult, it had been more than a decade since she’d had any math at all.
But Prof. Robert Wenger was patient with what Miller terms her “constant questions,” inspiring her to conquer the subject that had once seemed so daunting. One day, he asked if she’d ever thought about being a teacher.
Fast-forward more than a decade and it’s Miller doing the inspiring, leading her students through such tough classes as Advanced Placement and College-Prep biology at Oconto Falls High School. In early September, Miller’s educational expertise was recognized in a big way when she won the Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year award — in part, it should be noted, due to her efforts to promote interest in math.
“I’m a lifelong learner, so one of the things I love so much about teaching is that I’m constantly challenged to learn new things,” Miller said. “I’m not an overly social person, yet I really like working with people — (seeing) that light bulb going on in my students’ faces is the best feeling.”
Miller earned her UW-Green Bay degree in biology in 2001 before earning her master’s in education from Viterbo University in La Crosse.
In addition to her teaching load, Miller advises Oconto Falls High School’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Club and Science Club. In 2007, she founded the annual STEM Symposium, a showcase for students to present original scientific research and projects to classmates, community members, area business leaders and the general public.
Miller has stayed involved at UW-Green Bay, too, serving as an instructor for the National Board Candidate Support program, coordinated by the University’s Institute for Learning Partnership. The institute’s associate director, Juliet Cole, wrote a letter supporting Miller’s nomination for the Herb Kohl Fellowship, which serves as a precursor to the teacher of the year contest.
“JoAnn is definitely an exceptional teacher,” Cole said. “She is committed to service and the teaching profession.”
Cole also has high praise for Miller’s work in facilitating the UW-Green Bay National Board Candidate Support program and assisting teachers who are going through their certification process. Miller has brought new and innovative ideas to the process and facilitation workshops, Cole said.
Miller’s teacher of the year award came as a huge surprise — “it took my breath away,” she says — when it was announced during an all-school assembly during the first week of classes. Miller will receive a $3,000 prize from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, and state Superintendent Tony Evers will recognize her during his State of Education address Sept. 20.
“The quality of the educators in our schools is vital to student success,” Evers said. “Teachers who receive this award are recognized by their peers, students and parents as caring, committed educators. They represent quality educators who make a difference every day for our students.”
Miller is able to make that difference in large part because of teachers like Wenger (now retired) who inspired her, she said. She was excited to learn and later to teach, but she couldn’t do it alone.
“I had a thirst for learning, and Dr. Wenger was constantly available,” she said. “I try to be constantly available for my students, too.”
Click here to view a complete press release (PDF) on the award.
— Top photo courtesy of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.