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“In today’s world, I don’t think people understand what teachers do anymore, and I know Amanda will work hard to raise that awareness,” says Jessica Augsberger, a fourth-grade teacher who taught alongside Miliner last year. “We don’t sit behind a desk while students fill out worksheets. We spend hours on lesson plans, creating games and finding relevant links online.” As she speaks around the state this fall, Miliner is also working on her application for 2015 National Teacher of the Year. She submits the paperwork in November, and then the top four candidates are announced in January and interviewed early next year. When Miliner was announced as the state representative, she was shocked. “It was already an honor to be selected at my school because my peers know me best and all of the activities I’m involved in,” she says. “Then it was humbling for them to nominate me to move forward.” Of Houston County’s 38 schools and 2,000 teachers, Miliner was thrilled to be in the top 10 after teaching for just five years. Then she continued to be surprised as she moved to the state level and submitted an application alongside 155 other teachers. “I know the educators we have in Georgia. There are so many teachers doing so many creative lessons,” she says. “How did I go from being a regular teacher in a classroom to someone representing teachers across the state?” 22 | KNOW • Volume 12 Issue 3 BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS While Miliner speaks at conferences, she focuses on what you can’t learn in textbooks — relationship building and classroom management. Her first priority each school year is to build a connection with each student and establish that she’s head of the classroom. Even during project time, as students mill about the room and talk together, they immediately turn her way when she makes an announcement or calls for quiet work time. “It’s hard to teach students if you don’t have classroom management under control,” she says. “And we as the adults must facilitate those relationships. We model the behavior for them.” When she starts the year with a new group of students, Miliner likes to complete various interest inventories with them to discuss books, music, television and mobile applications. Then she references those interests in her lessons to engage the students and make the activities meaningful to them. One year, the students created jingles by repurposing a song by teen heartthrob Justin Bieber. Another year, she created a project about robots for a scientifically-skilled group. In addition, she uses a personality test to help students understand each other and how they can work together. “Are you a rule follower? Are you sensitive? Students start to pick up on the cues of why someone seems upset or why someone may seem frustrated,” Miliner says. “The students learn that you may not like everyone, but you have to find ways to work with everyone.” This focus on community and connection is why Miller Elementary’s Principal Gwen Pearson-Kilgore encouraged Miliner’s nomination in the first place. “She’s serious about making a difference in the lives of the children she touches,” Kilgore says. “It doesn’t matter the makeup of the classroom or the talent of the child. She’s going to find a way to reach that child and work to achieve the child’s goals.” During a recent year, when Miliner had a particularly challenging class of students who struggled to find motivation, she set up a Saturday cookout event for parents and children. She created academic activities for the students to play and held informal meetings with the parents while they ate hotdogs and hamburgers, casually talking about how the students performed at school and how the parents could help at home. “She bonded with the parents and students and was essentially able to do conferences in a relaxed atmosphere,” Pearson-Kilgore says. “Building those relationships that day moved every last one of those children academically by the end of the year.” To Miliner, the key is treating the students like adults, even if they’re in elementary school. She’ll often borrow lesson plans from middle school teachers and adapt them to her classroom. She’s found that students aim to impress and will rise to the occasion if the lesson is posed as a fun challenge. “I think elementary students now are more mature than before, which is partially due to social media and TV. They’re 9 going on 19,” she says. “Plus, more are brought up in single-parent homes or take on adult responsibilities. If you talk to them like adults, they appreciate the feeling that they’re more in control.” Miliner first decided to become a teacher when she was a student herself, but perhaps not as early as you would think. After graduating from Warner Robins High School, she majored in psychology at Valdosta State University because she was fascinated by people’s behaviors and how the brain works. When she volunteered with the campus chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, she found a calling. Miliner would visit her little sister’s school each week, sometimes to each lunch together, look at books in the library or even hang out in the classroom. When Miliner visited Valdosta’a S.L. Mason Elementary and sat in the classroom of Julie Hiers, who is now assistant principal at Sallas Mahone Elementary in Valdosta, she found a warm and nurturing environment she wanted to emulate. “I knew that if I had children, I would want them to be in that classroom. I sat there in awe and realized how much fun it was and that I was learning,” she says. “I got a feeling that day that I wanted to be a teacher, though I had never thought about it before.” “I know the educators we have in Georgia. There are so many teachers doing so many creative lessons.” 10 4


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