Calculating for 75 Years: Maryland Math Teacher Still at the Head of the Class

Paul Miller has been teaching math for 75 years, that's 27,000 school days

June 11, 2010, 6:14 PM

June 15, 2010 — -- Paul Miller began teaching in 1934. President Roosevelt's New Deal was in full swing. The Nazi party was on the rise in Germany.

Miller was fresh out of "the cheapest school that I could find," where the only degree he could get was in elementary education, he said.

Today, 75 years and about 27,000 school days later, Paul Miller, now 93, is still teaching mathematics.

And he has no plans to quit anytime soon.

"He loves what he does and he wouldn't know what to do if he had more free time,'' said his son, Sam Miller, 48, a Maryland neurologist.

At an age when most of his contemporaries are already on the back end of their winding down decades, Miller is at work teaching three classes a day at a Yeshiva high school outside Baltimore, where he has taught for 51 years, including three generations from some families.

Miller routinely arrives at school hours before his classes begin each day to eat lunch with his students. (He likes the free meals.) And to prepare for class.

He's something of a Luddite. No computerized SMART Boards for him. He teaches his lessons from scratch each time, on the white board, though he hasn't yet gotten the hang of the multi-colored markers. Technology, he says, can't make a student any smarter.

But ask his students and colleagues about him and they paint a picture of a fair, patient and dedicated teacher who more than knows his stuff. About math and more. A natural storyteller, Miller serves as a personal history book, bringing to life what they learn in class.

"It's much different hearing it from someone who experienced things 50, 60, 70, 80 years ago, than just looking at a history book," said Meir Bamberger, 17, who is learning algebra and trigonometry from Miller at Ner Israel high school, where his father, Henry, was also a student of Miller's years ago.

Jake Schuchman, the principal at Ner Israel, calls Miller a model of a great teacher.

"I sort of think of him as akin to an artist," he said "When he puts a theorem up on the board, he does it in nice simple steps that everybody understands."

While Miller's talent for teaching has endured, and he's still living independently and driving, the years have taken a toll on his hearing. Not long ago, a dean from an affiliated rabbinical school was walking by the classroom and thought one of the students was being "chutzpadik," or a wise-alek, when he heard what seemed like a commotion in the classroom, Schuchman said. But the student was just asking a question loudly enough so that Miller could hear.

Miller began his career as an elementary math teacher, but after 15 years began teaching high school, in 1951, eventually completing two graduate degrees – at Johns Hopkins and Louisiana State University, and embarking on a five-decades long career teaching math on the college level, all the while simultaneously teaching high school, and, often, tutoring.

His children recall him working long hours, leaving home not long after dawn and returning home at 11 p.m., spending his days working two or three jobs at a time.

"The greatest thing is, you see the product of your work and you can take pride in it,'' said Miller. He said he also likes that every day and every student is different, "You never know how it's going to end."

And if things don't go well, he said, "It's easy to atone for your sins. If you do something wrong, you come in the next day and you can make it up."

Miller, a life-long learner who has continued his education through numerous fellowships around the country over the years, attributes his work ethic to his parents.

He is one of five sons of Lithuanian immigrants. His father was a tailor who escaped indentured servitude in Lithuania. His mother, who could not read, would monitor her sons' homework and make them re-do it if it didn't appear to be neat and organized.

Miller's children -- there are seven of them (an orthodontist, a chiropractor, a neurologist, a podiatrist, an optometrist, an engineer, and a nurse) and 16 grandchildren -- would like to see him recognized for his long service in teaching.

An appeal to the Guinness World of World Records was rejected: The record appears to be held by Medarda de Jesus Leon de Uzcategui of Venezuela, who taught for 96 years, beginning when she was 12.

Now they plan to try the National Teachers Hall of Fame, where Miller probably has a decent chance of being recognized. The longest-serving teacher currently recognized there clocked a mere 54 years in the classroom.

The hall of fame's Jenny Harder calls Miller's achievement "absolutely amazing," particularly given that 25-50 percent of new teachers drop out of the profession within the first five years.

Miller's advice to the rookies -- and anyone else angling for chance at longevity of any kind -- is simple: "Stay in good health. Watch your diet. Get enough sleep. And most of all, after the day is finished, don't worry about it."

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