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For Sue Miller, it's all about the kids
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Photo: Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Rockridge school teacher Sue Miller.
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Rockridge school teacher Sue Miller talks with students Adona Zulku , left, and Taelea Massey.
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Rockridge school teacher Sue Miller talks with students Megan Schaver, left, Will Simmons and Jerod Williams-Davis during a class discussion about the U.S. Constitution.
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Photo: Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Rockridge school teacher Sue Miller, right, talks with students Caitlyn Havemann, left, and Jena Wapelhorst during a class discussion about the U.S. Constitution.
Working with kids always has been Sue Miller's passion, but it took her years to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.

She said she worked in a pediatric dental office while pregnant.

"Finding a job for a pregnant woman was not easy, but the part-time job ended up being perfect because my boss there watched me coax a scared 2-year-old into the chair for a check up. He said he had never seen anyone that convincing with children before," Ms. Miller said.

Ms. Miller's boss encouraged her to become a teacher, knowing it was her goal.

"Working in the dental office was fun because I was with kids, but seeing them twice a year didn't give me the opportunity to build relationships like I knew teaching would," she said.

Ms. Miller went back to school to get her teaching degree from Iowa Wesleyan College, graduating in 1995. She was eager to start her new career and didn't have to wait long.

That same month, she was offered a part-time long-term substitute position at Jefferson Elementary in Muscatine, where she taught Title I reading, a program designed to help disadvantaged children.

"My favorite memory there was when I had the kids apply for public library cards and treated them like a Mastercard or Visa that the kids could use to have lunch with me in the cafeteria," Ms. Miller said.

"Most of my kids there were underprivileged economically and were walking distance from the library, which would be a nice cool, safe place for them to hang out and hopefully read during the summer," she said.

The following school year, Ms. Miller accepted a permanent position as a Title I reading and math specialist at Sherrard Elementary. The 30 students in her classroom excelled, as evidenced by their standardized test scores.

In fact, the test results caused some skepticism in the district.

"When one of the other principals in the district referred to what we were doing as voodoo, my boss, Stew Klink, called me into his office and said, 'Ms. Miller, you know I trust you, right? This method better work because they're calling it voodoo at the cabinet meetings.'

"I told him if he said I had to stop using it, I would quit my job because that's how much it worked," she said.

While not all the administration was immediately convinced, parents were relieved to see their kids doing so well.

"In a job like that, parents are most appreciative because most of them have been as frustrated as their poor kids," Ms. Miller said. "People still thank me now when I see them. Knowing their adult kids turned out OK is a huge reward for me."

After six years, Ms. Miller left Sherrard to teach grammar and writing at Rockridge Junior High School. She was sad to leave, but Rockridge was closer to home and the school her children would attend.

"I fell into my dream job," she said of Rockridge, where she continues to teach. "The energy at this age level is totally contagious. For the last 13 years, I've gotten to peek right into the hearts of the most tender age there is."

Ms. Miller's enthusiasm is clear to coworkers and students. In 2012, she won The Dispatch and Rock Island Island Argus Master Teacher award.

She recently started teaching social studies after a series of budget cuts in the district split the language arts program in the junior high.

Illinois school districts have seen many changes throughout Ms. Miller's career. Budget cuts and government programs have made teachers re-evaluate how they do everything, and it hasn't always been easy, she said.

"It is and always will be the teacher that determines if the classroom is going to be a place where students can learn," she said. "We have to quit blaming lack of funding, technology and air conditioning or whatever and realize that it's up to us, because we are the faces that our kids look to for their learning every day in our classrooms."

Ms. Miller said she will miss her job and the students when she retires in three years.

"My favorite part of teaching is building relationships and helping kids navigate through their troubles," she said. "Sometimes, that's the hardest part of my job, but it's also the most rewarding when I know that I can help them overcome an obstacle because they will take that learning and apply it over and over and over.

"I especially love helping a child understand that they are worthy of love, learning and success."

Ms. Miller is looking forward to retirement, but is worried about the future of her classroom.

"My only fear is that I won't have the curriculum perfected by the time I retire in 2017," she said. "At this point in my career, I feel like I am running out of time. It's a scary feeling, but I imagine everyone who loves this profession feels that way."

Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Sept. 16, the 259th day of 2014. There are 106 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: A fine lumber mill is on the course of erection at Andalusia. A flouring mill at that location is doing a fine business.
1889 — 125 years ago: J.B. Lidders, past captain of Beardsley Camp, Sons of Veterans, returned from Paterson, N.Y., where he attended the National Sons of Veterans encampments.
1914 — 100 years ago: President Wilson announced that he had received from the imperial chancellor of Germany a noncommittal reply to his inquiry into a report that the emperor was willing to discuss terms of peace.
1939 — 75 years ago: Delegates at the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church in Springfield voted to raise the minimum pay of ministers so that every pastor would get at least $1,000 annually.
1964 — 50 years ago: An audience of more than 2,600 persons jammed into the Davenport RKO Orpheum theater with a shoe horn feasted on a Miller-Diller evening that was a killer night. Phyllis Diller sent the audience with her offbeat humor. And send them she did! It was Miss Diller's third appearance in the Quad-Cities area.
1989 — 25 years ago: A few years ago, a vacant lot on 7th Avenue and 14th Street in Rock Island was a community nuisance. Weeds grew as high 18 inches. Today, the lot has a new face, thanks to Michael and Sheila Rind and other neighbors who helped them turn it into a park three weeks ago.

(More History)