A conversation with Georgia’s Teacher of the Year

alopez@macon.comJune 7, 2014 

Amanda Miliner, who recently completed her fourth full year as a teacher in the Houston County school district, was named in May the 2015 Georgia Teacher of the Year.

ANDRES DAVID LOPEZ — alopez@macon.com Buy Photo

Amanda Miliner, who has been teaching fourth grade for nearly five years at Miller Elementary School in Warner Robins, was selected in May as the 2015 Georgia Teacher of the Year. In assuming her duties as an advocate for educators, she will take a year off from the classroom to travel, meet with policymakers and conduct workshops for other teachers.

The Telegraph sat down with Miliner -- who also is a former Miss Georgia -- near her home in Kathleen to discuss her path to becoming the state’s top teacher and what she plans to do next. Her responses were edited for clarity and length.

QUESTION: Your tenure as Teacher of the Year officially begins July 1. How do you feel?

ANSWER: It’s pretty overwhelming because all of a sudden your life takes a 180. Before this happened, I was already planning for next year and getting my thoughts together for how I want to make changes in my classroom. ... So it’s a little overwhelming because I’ve had to completely rethink what’s happening, and then it’s exciting because who knows what’s going to happen? What an amazing opportunity to travel and speak on behalf of education and see what educators are doing across the state.

QUESTION: As the Teacher of the Year you will be tasked with being an ambassador to the profession. What has been planned for you so far?

ANSWER: There’s already certain things that are scheduled that every Georgia Teacher of the Year does. There’s a trip to Arizona that all the teachers of the year for the states do in January, and then we all go to D.C. in April or May depending on the president’s schedule, because we also get to meet the president, which is really exciting.

QUESTION: What would you most like to get across to people as a representative for all Georgia public schoolteachers?

ANSWER: I’ve kind of been thinking about this, brainstorming this, because it’s a heavy load to have education on your shoulders. One of the things I really want to make sure people understand is how hard we work. ... I think a lot of times people get caught up in test scores, and they make a judgment on teachers based on one score. But that’s the hard data, and there’s so much soft data out there that people are not acknowledging. ... We come in early, we stay very late to make lessons, and we’re bringing breakfast for kids. When we go home we don’t just turn off like a switch. ... It’s a job you can’t turn off. It’s a lifestyle.

QUESTION: As Teacher of the Year, you also will have access to policymakers and will serve on state committees. What do you think is the most important issue in education right now?

ANSWER: One of the new issues will definitely be the assessments (the Georgia Department of Education) just sent out (Thursday) explaining how we’re going to have the Georgia Milestones Assessment, which is going to increase the rigor and ask students to answer more open-ended questions and not just multiple-choice answers.

QUESTION: Traveling and making appearances at events should be nothing new for a former Miss Georgia. Which do you think is scarier -- standing in front of pageant judges or standing in front of a class of fourth-graders?

ANSWER: You can be in front of your kids every day, but being in front of your peers is a lot different. ... I have to do workshops (as part of Georgia Teacher of the Year duties) and think about what I want to talk about at a workshop for three to four hours. A lot of my colleagues have been helping me do that, and that’s the exciting part because your peers are the most intimidating as an audience. ... I’m excited I don’t have to walk in a bathing suit, but yet I still feel like I’m going to be parading myself for everyone.

QUESTION: You are the first person in your family to go to college. Can you walk me through a few pivotal moments in your life that led you to where you are today?

ANSWER: My mother was military, so I think that was one of the pivotal things because I learned to adapt very easily. ... That required me to be very independent, because I couldn’t rely on mommy to take care of me if she was out in the field for a week or if she had to go be deployed to Saudi Arabia for three months. ... My mother is highly intelligent and very motivated, so I learned quickly what I was capable of because my mother put me in everything. She wanted way more for me than what she had for herself, so I was a dancer, I did cheerleading, I did Brownies, I did sports, and so that really helped me become more of a well-rounded person.

QUESTION: Miller Elementary is a Title I school, meaning some of your students faced issues associated with their socioeconomic status. Do you relate to them?

ANSWER: A lot of the kids do live with single parents. We do have some military parents, but not that many. And we also have children who are kind of having to raise themselves, which I had to do a lot. So yeah, I do see a lot of myself in them. ... I think that’s why I’m able to build a relationship with them.

QUESTION: Can you expand on that? How do successful teachers reach students who live in poverty to ensure they don’t lag behind their peers?

ANSWER: I think the biggest thing is you want to learn all about the child. You want to know about their learning, about their personality, what their interests are, and you also you want to learn about their family. Because if you have a child whose mother is incarcerated, when Mother’s Day comes around, it’s helpful if you’re already proactive with it. ... You have different circumstances you are dealing with, with children that are in poverty settings, so you just have to be more sensitive to the needs of your kids.

QUESTION: You have your own Wikipedia page. How does that happen?

ANSWER: I have no idea! What’s funny is my birthday is wrong on it. ... My birthday is July 28, so if you can get that out there and tell them to fix it...

QUESTION: Have you thought about what you might do after your sabbatical and after your tenure as Georgia Teacher of the Year?

ANSWER: No, I haven’t. That’s the big question people keep asking me, “What’s next? What’s your vision now that you have this?” ... I’m just going to take this year as it comes and whatever may be, may be. I love teaching, so whatever I can do to help the profession grow and be stronger I’m more than excited to do, because teachers deserve to have an advocate. They deserve to have someone there working and fighting for them, because we’re in the classroom doing our job, and we’re expecting others to help us and support us outside of the classroom.

Contact writer Andres David Lopez at 256-9751.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service