Many people have a special teacher who was influential and life-changing. For many students, who went to school in Portland, that teacher was Sandra Miller.
You didn’t have to be assigned to her class for her to reach out to you. She sought out those students who were not athletes or cheerleaders to give them the opportunity to also be leaders.
One of the ways she reached those students was through the closed circuit True Colors Network News program (TCN) that she and her husband Bill Miller founded. The program received the Tennessee School Board Award of Excellence.
In her eulogy, Bro. Tim Coker said, “Middle school is tough and it is easy for kids to feel invisible and that they don’t matter. They had the ability to take those kids and make them feel like they mattered and that they had something worthwhile to contribute to the world. That is why so many of us kept in touch with them during the years.”
Former principal at Clyde Riggs Elementary, Hilman Key hired Sandra for her first teaching job.
Key said, “I hired her because she said all the right things in the interview. She was an excellent teacher who did everything right. I can’t say enough good things about her. She was a pure teacher.”
She taught at Clyde Riggs Elementary for 14 years, teaching in a sixth-grade elementary classroom. She was transferred to Portland Middle School when Sumner County Schools changed from the junior high to the middle school concept, which moved the ninth grade to the high school and the sixth grade to middle school.
Her middle school principal Bobby Little said, “She was a good person and a good teacher. She was meant to be a teacher. She would always tell her kids that if they could dream it, they could do it.”
Her history classroom came alive each August and stayed alive until school was out for summer break. She would transform her classroom into an ancient Egyptian setting and challenge her students to create a replica of a mummy.
Her imagination was endless, as she turned her classroom into the medieval time period by bringing in a full-size knight in shining armor and placing “him” in a corner to look over her class.
In October, pumpkins would be turned into world globes. She made Greek mythology exciting by bringing in props to go with her lessons such as a large Pandora ’s Box. When the students opened the box, it triggered smoke bombs inside and smoke of different colors would escape from the box. Again, it was the partnership with her husband that made many of the things work effectively.
Miller received many accolades during her teaching career. She was the recipient of the
1992 National Educator of the Year Award from the Milken Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Education. She was a fellow at Princeton University, and she was appointed the Department of Education Ambassador to Ukraine in 1998-1999.
Her peers chose her as Sumner County Teacher of the Year several times and she advanced to the Sumner County Teacher of the Year and Regional Teacher of the Year. In addition, she received many resolutions from the city, county, state, and regional governments. But the highest tributes to Miller come from the words of the many students, parents, and colleagues who were fortunate to have crossed her path.
Student Destiny Escue said, “Mrs. Miller had this talent for championing her children and really pushing them to see their full potential. Sandra Miller is a beautiful embodiment of what it’s like to really believe in yourself to the point of letting nothing stop you. Her courage, confidence, and compassion will remain a shining example in my life and in many others.”
Monecca Brewer and her son Jesse were both students of Miller. Brewer remembers Miller made everyone believe anything was possible. According to Brewer, she saw the best in everyone and her students rose to her level of expectation. She thanks God for putting Miller in her path and for placing her son in her path.
Jennifer Lucas said, “I think Mrs. Miller was the best teacher that Portland has ever had. She had her students learn to believe in themselves by her believing in them to show them that everything is possible.”
It wasn’t just students that she reached out and touched. When Vince Ellis stopped by the Miller’s house as a high school student to see if they would hire him to mow their lawn, he didn’t realize how knocking on that door would impact his life. Over the years the Millers became like family to him. At Christmas he and his wife would be invited to their home for a meal and they would exchange gifts. He mowed their lawn for eight years, and even though he is a building contractor now, he continues to mow their yard.
Ellis said, “She encouraged me through my difficulties and celebrated my successes. She was always very positive and sensitive.”
Parents appreciated the positive influence Miller had over their children.
Debby Suttle James said, “My daughter was blessed with Mrs. Miller’s guidance during her middle school years. Being a “small town girl” with a big dream, Mrs. Miller was always there to emboldened this young girl’s vision and inspire her to follow her heart.”
Teaching colleague Sharon Cope said, “She was such a kind, loving person who always wanted to help anyone in any way that she could. It amazed me to witness the relationship she had with her students. In each relationship, there was encouragement, love, and respect.”
In the ending remarks of the eulogy, Coker said, “The biggest impact many of us here are impacted by is that we are doing what we love because of the inspiration and encouragement we received from her. That can be her legacy because every day when we do the things that we love we can think back and remember how she helped make it possible.”