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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 Wednesday, Aug. 20, the 232nd day of 2014. There are 133 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: Quite a number of Negroes have lately been brought here by abolition offers returning from the army in violation of the laws of the state.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Miss Tillie Denkmann, of Rock Island, was making plans to accompany a Davenport family on a tour of Europe.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German advance into Belgium was going apparently without serious check. The American ambassador at Berlin published a denial of the charge that Americans had been ill-treated in Germany.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Seventy-two members of Rock Island High School's 1939 graduating class are preparing to enter college — 34 of them at Augustana.
1964 -- 50 years ago: One of the oldest buildings in Milan, which for a number of years has housed the Milan Hotel, will be razed to make way for a modern, two-story office structure.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Some are blaming it on the sudden influx of insects and the extreme humidity. Still others say the invasion was inspired by a recent movie. But whatever the reason, the Quad-Cities is swarming with bats.

(More History)