Ensights sits down to pick the brain of High School English teacher, Jim Miller.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
My mother was in publishing and my father was a pastor, so the written and spoken word was the family bread-and-butter. Additionally, by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was coaching freshman debaters, so it was more-or-less written in the stars that I was going to be a teacher. I tried to dodge it because when you go to prep school, oftentimes the expectation is that you go out there to make a lot of money or be a master of the universe, but nothing worked until I committed to teaching, and then everything fell into place. I was also lucky to secure a first teaching position in which I had a tremendous deal of mentorship from older faculty, so I really benefited from their wisdom early on, and in as much as my students are my legacy, they are also the legacy of my mentors.
What drew you to Ensworth?
Well, primarily it was the Harkness table. After learning and teaching Socratically for so many years, the opportunity to develop my craft in a new direction appealed to me. Also, I came in year six of the High School, so the opportunity to get in on the ground floors of building something new seemed like a very cool opportunity, especially in a community like Nashville that has more than its fair share of institutions reaching back to the Nineteenth Century. These aspects of Ensworth and the opportunity to work with my high school friend David Berry were what made Ensworth so appealing.
What is your favorite part of the day?
Any part of the day when I am interacting with students. This year has been tough for many of us because the commons areas have been closed to students, and I feel like I can speak for many of my colleagues when I say that the shared downtime with students is one of the most essential parts of what makes our community so special.
What is one of your best Ensworth memories?
You know, the Harkness table was designed for the introverted student, but it privileges the extrovert. In my first advisory, Tucker Deaton was a pretty quiet young man. I remember he slept on the bus all the way back from the freshman retreat--that’s how exhausting the experience was for him. On Tucker’s first sophomore service learning day, we were working with kindergarten-aged kids participating in Special Olympics. There was a five-year-old on the spectrum who had recently been removed from a bad home situation and he had not yet connected with his foster parents, let alone any teacher or classmate. Somehow Tucker’s quiet demeanor made him approachable to this youngster, and I got to watch Tucker connect with and play with this boy for the rest of the day. I have a picture of the two of them on my desk.
How does Ensworth effectively promote civil discourse among students and prepare them to engage with others thoughtfully and respectfully?
Well, civil discourse is baked into the Harkness experience. It is my job as an educator to draw out and highlight dissent from the common opinion (or my opinion) and to liberate lone voices from the tyranny of the majority. What passes as public discourse these days doesn’t really seem calibrated for moving hearts and minds; it seems more calibrated for self-righteousness and confirmation bias. The Harkness table at its best takes a more practical approach for improving the world.
Share 3-5 facts about yourself that others might not know.
• Huge movie buff. I have missed the Belcourt so much during quarantine.
• The Superbowl in my family is the Westminister Dog Show. I follow a lot of dog breed hashtags on Instagram. Cat people weird me out a little.
• I can’t stand reality television unless it is a creative competition show. If they are making something, I’m in, but the shows about people who are famous for being famous... nothing seems less real to me.