Houston County's Teacher of the Year not afraid of a challenge

jmink@macon.comAugust 11, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- It’s after 9 a.m., and classical music is drifting through Amanda Miliner’s classroom at Miller Elementary School.

A group of fourth-graders is huddled over their notebooks, racking their brains for something good to write about. She chats with them, asking about their ideas and encouraging the students to write them down. It will not be graded, but simply reviewed.

“Try to write everything you just told me,” she tells one boy.

It’s one way she determines each student’s skill level and way of learning. That task can be difficult but, as Houston County’s Teacher of the Year, Miliner isn’t afraid of a challenge.

“In elementary, we teach about six subjects a day. Being an expert on every subject, every day is a challenge,” she said. “But it’s attainable.”

Miliner was chosen Teacher of the Year after the top teachers from each school were narrowed to a pool of 10, then evaluated by outside judges. She recently received the honor during the district’s opening session before school started. Now, she will vie to become the Georgia Teacher of the Year and be an advocate, not just for students, but for teachers as well, she said.

Miliner is no stranger to winning top honors. She is a former Miss Georgia.

She is quick to point out that the title is an honor because the district is full of top-notch teachers, including her own former teacher, who was also a finalist and sat next to her during the ceremony.

Teachers from her past have encouraged Miliner, who grew up in a military family and moved to Warner Robins as a child.

She initially pursued a different college major, but while volunteering with children, she was inspired by a classroom teacher she observed. Now, she is in her fifth year as an educator, teaching fourth-grade gifted classes.

“We have such an awesome job where every day we get that feedback of what we’re doing and how it does matter,” she said.

Teaching is not an easy job, and educating gifted students can be particularly challenging, but other educators say Miliner has a knack for bringing out the best in children.

Principal Gwendolyn Pearson-Kilgore remembers when Miliner had a particularly difficult class, a group of students who initially struggled academically and behaviorally.

Instead of making excuses, Miliner developed a special tactic: She hosted a weekend cookout, inviting parents and using the opportunity to talk with each of them about their child.

“It was a big turning point,” Pearson-Kilgore said. “When I think about Mrs. Miliner, I think about the complete package.”

There was the time a student had failed the statewide math exam mainly due to a lack of confidence, and Miliner decided to tutor the child.

The next time she took the test, the student not only passed, but she made a high score.

“It’s exciting when you’re able to celebrate with that student,” Miliner said.

Even though school started more than one week ago, 9-year-old Michael Bloom already enjoys math with Miliner. His favorite lesson so far has been learning about place values. Miliner used a game to help teach the lesson, her students said.

“I used to think billion wasn’t even a number,” Michael said.

Jaden Womack is eager to talk about a recent science experience involving Gummy Bears.

“We learned the scientific method ... and she let us eat the Gummy Bears,” the 8-year-old said. “She’s very nice and she’s funny.”

It’s that enthusiasm for learning that inspires teachers such as Miliner. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher is the fact that she relishes her job, she said.

While she is required to teach a certain curriculum, Miliner has the freedom to develop her own teaching techniques. She can bring Gummy Bears and classical music into her classroom, for example, which makes her career creative and fun.

“I love teaching. I love being in a classroom,” Miliner said. “I’m so fortunate that I’m in a job I really do enjoy.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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