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The City Journals

Heather Miller Wins PE Teacher of the Year

May 05, 2016 05:09PM ● By Bryan Scott

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley - Being rewarded for work in your profession is a stimulating experience. For Heather Miller, the physical education teacher at Hunter and Roosevelt Elementary Schools, the reward was a validation of hard work.

Miller was awarded the Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year Award by the Utah Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (UAHPERD). 

“I’ve been going to their [UAHPERD] conferences since college, so I knew about the award,” Miller said. “And in the back of my mind I always thought, ‘Oh, that would be a cool thing to get.’”

Nominated by the supervisor of the elementary schools’ teachers, Miller said she was happy to be acknowledged for her commitment to her profession.

“I feel like I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work, and it’s nice to finally be recognized for working hard,” Miller said. 

Kayla Mackay, principal at Hunter Elementary School, said the results of Miller’s hard work are evident through the classes of children she works with. 

“[Miller’s] got it organized enough that 32 kids can play in there fully engaged and [the kids] love it,” Mackay said. “I swear she knows all 560 kids’ names.”

When Miller was in fifth grade, she had a PE teacher who was mean to a bigger boy having difficulty climbing a rope. Miller said that was the first time she remembers really wanting to be a teacher. 

“I remember thinking, ‘That’s not okay,’ and that kind of pushed me to be the type of teacher I wanted to be,” Miller said.

Mackay said Miller has a presence that establishes what’s expected of the kids. 

“The kids know, when they walk into the room, that [Miller] values honesty, hard work, respect and safety,” Mackay said. “She doesn’t harp on the negative; she praises those that are doing a good job.”

“I don’t have a lot of discipline problems because they know what they’re supposed to do and what I’m looking for,” Miller said. 

“I have never heard her yell; I’ve never heard her talk in a disrespectful or harsh tone. She is so respectful,” Mackay said.

Miller said she has a stricter management style that helps to inform the kids what’s to be expected of them. It’s an ongoing process, she said, which has taken her five years to establish into something that works well.

“You have to set up a really good behavior system and expectations and consequences and then just stick with it,” Miller said. 

Miller has a penalty box set up in the gym, like in hockey, where misbehaving kids have to sit and watch the games being played, and a sunshine board where kids nominate each other for good sportsmanship or helping one another. 

“But having fun is my ultimate goal for them,” Miller, a Colorado native and BYU graduate, said. 

Miller utilizes different kinds of technology with her kids as well playing music through the speakers on the stage.

“It’s playing hip-hop. It’s playing music the kids love,” Mackay said.

“They move so much better when there’s music,” Miller said. 

Even more innovative may be the use of a GoPro during classes. The camera is strapped to a different child so Miller can both critique her teaching and potentially produce a highlight video for the kids to watch at the end of the year.

“I can also use it for self-analysis, like I showed it to these girls to show them how they were throwing and what could be fixed,” Miller said. 

Miller has a multitude of games at her disposal to play with the kids and even more variations to go with them, whether it’s pinguard, dodgeball or workout buddies, where she can teach the kids cooperation and team building by switching their partners constantly. 

Mackay said it’s been fun for her to see the kids play these activities on the playground during recess.

“Anytime I see them at recess playing a game that we’ve learned so I know they still want to play it, that’s awesome, it’s really satisfying,” Miller, a former high school basketball player, said.  

The best part of Miller’s job may be a different kind of reward. After five years of teaching at these schools, Miller said it’s been so rewarding witnessing the development of the students year after year. 

“Watching them actually grow and improve, being a kindergartener who could barely skip to now they’re playing organized basketball and doing really well,” Miller said — “seeing that development has been really rewarding.”

Winning the UAHPERD PE teacher of the year doesn’t mean Miller will be resting on her laurels. She said she intends to keep attending as many workshops as possible. 

“[The award] still motivates me to keep improving, whether it’s finding different games for them or learning a better way to do something,” Miller said.