MADISON — In a surprise ceremony at his school, Matthew W. Miller Sr., an English learner teacher at North High School in Sheboygan, was named Wisconsin’s 2018 Special Services Teacher of the Year.
State Superintendent Tony Evers made the announcement during an all-school assembly. As part of the Teacher of the Year honor, Miller will receive $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.
“Teaching is a career for optimists. People who see the potential in each student and meet challenges with innovative solutions that improve the lives and education of our kids,” Evers said. “A Teacher of the Year recipient inspires the young people in their school and their colleagues in the school and community. It is an honor to recognize educators who do so much for Wisconsin’s public schools.”
“The Teacher of the Year program highlights the many contributions educators make to our children, schools, and communities,” said Herb Kohl, philanthropist and businessman, who co-sponsors the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year program through his educational foundation. “Our teachers make extraordinary efforts to help all children achieve.”
While some would term his teaching style as “relationship building,” Miller says he is trying to be a “future builder.” He considers every learner a potential leader and tailors instruction to meet students’ individual language, leadership, and life needs.
While living in Harlem in pursuit of his teaching degree, Miller offered tutoring or encouragement for the children of neighbors and workers. Later as a middle school English teacher, he learned that the more he served his students’ families, the more he earned his students’ respect and trust. When he moved to Sheboygan, Miller offered English classes to Spanish-speaking adults, many of them parents of students.
With a passion for leadership and community service, Miller has facilitated nearly 170 leadership, service learning, and community-building projects for students in the district. He created the Hmong Leadership Collective, a statewide student-led group and an outgrowth of the district’s Hmong Leadership Council, which provides more than 1,000 hours of community service. The collective seeks to strengthen Hmong culture, identity, and communities to positively transform society and build leadership skills. A teacher colleague noted that Miller helps Hmong students learn about and celebrate their own culture, while adapting to life in America.
A former student wrote that “Mr. Miller not only showed me and many other students what a leader should be like, but also how to become a leader ourselves.” The student praised opportunities to volunteer with the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, attend leadership retreats and conferences, and participate in community arts collaboration as well as cultural and educational presentations. In a letter supporting Miller’s nomination for a Kohl Fellowship, North High School Associate Principal Eric Spielman said that Miller’s “greatest success is the deep, meaningful relationships he establishes with students, staff, families, and the greater Sheboygan community.” He added that Miller’s role with students extends beyond teacher, to mentor, friend, liaison, and advocate.
Miller’s grant writing for a precollege program through the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan provided a “Language and Leadership” summer program that boosted college readiness and civic engagement among area English learners from lower-income families. A project with Bookworm Gardens, a children’s book-themed community center and park, brought together elders in conversations with teens who then created visual, literary, and musical artifacts based on the elders’ stories. “Matthew inspires his students to do better, and he inspires teachers that way as well,” a colleague wrote. He leaves one “feeling that they can do more, do more for students, more for the school, and more for the community, and that doing more, for the sake of young people, matters.”
Miller began his career as an English teacher in New York City. He also taught at Hunter College in New York and for Northcentral Technical College and Upper Iowa University’s Wausau campus. For four years, he was an English teacher in Mexico City. He currently teaches English learners at North High School in Sheboygan. Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Lawrence University in Appleton and a Master of Arts in Secondary Education-English from City University of New York-Hunter College.