|Baylor's Dr. John "Doc" Miller Was A Born Teacher
by John Shearer
posted October 27, 2011
I consider myself fortunate to have had him in class during the early years of his teaching career in the 1970s. I realize now he was one of those rare instructors who knew how to engage his students and make class a fun – and positive – experience.
I remember first noticing Dr. Miller in the fall of 1974, when I walked by his classroom in the basement of Barks Hall. It must have been the first few days of the school year, and I remember looking in and seeing a bearded man who had a very serious look on his face. He had also written his name on the chalkboard, I think.
Only in the ninth grade at the time, I recall thinking that he looked like a stern teacher who would teach only the oldest and best students.
Well, as fate would dictate, I found myself in his English class the next year as a 10th grader.
As a student, I found him very challenging, I remember he would give tests on novels, and I would think I would be ready after having read the book and possessing a general grasp of it. Yet he would have hard questions about minute details or minor characters, and I never did quite as well as I expected.
But just by sitting in his class and listening to him, I always felt I was engaged in the subject and was learning a lot about it. And class always seemed to have a fun feel to it.
He had come from the college environment and – like the equally popular and quick-witted Dr. Dan Kennedy, who arrived about a year earlier – he was part of a growing trend of teachers at Baylor, McCallie and Girls Preparatory School who had doctorate degrees.
With his beard, thick glasses and probably more progressive views of the world, I am not sure I could have seen him teaching at Baylor during the school’s straight-laced military days that had ended just three years before he arrived.
However, I also believe his gifted teaching style would have fit any environment at any time.
Through the sophomore English class, I learned he had other talents and interests, including movie critiquing and photography, both of which he helped offer in some form at Baylor.
I remember he went with our physics classes down to Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta for a field trip when I was in 11th grade, and I saw him with his camera. I asked him if he had taken many pictures, and he replied insightfully, “No, I have not really seen any,” indicating he had not seen any potential photographs. It was another indication of his deep intellect.
But despite his obviously brilliant mind, he knew how to present his knowledge in a way to which the average high school student could relate.
When I was a senior, I believe, I signed up for his visual literacy class. I don’t think I made a great grade in that class, either, but I found it fascinating in that it opened my mind to the world of manipulative visual advertising and other visual tricks.
And the main reason I liked the class was the interesting way Dr. Miller taught the subject.
I did not see Dr. Miller much after I graduated in 1978, but I remember calling him in 1989 when I was working for the Chattanooga Free Press and was writing a story on the 50th anniversary of some of the world’s most famous movies, including “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
He asked me to call him back after he had some time to ponder the question of why so many good movies came out in 1939. I did the next day, and I remember he gave me some insightful thoughts that added a lot to the story.
In 2003, my Baylor class was having its 25-year reunion, and I remember he came. He was either in a wheelchair or needed a walker, and I was not sure what kind of health problems he had suffered. Unfortunately, for reasons I later regretted, I did not make a point to talk with him.
When our class had its 30th reunion in the fall of 2008, he was there again and still needed the aid of a walker. This time I made a point to go up and speak to him.
I remember he seemed to often have a serious look on his face by nature, but as soon as I began talking with him, he let out a big smile and we began having a warm exchange.
I told him I had become interested in taking pictures on a strictly fun and amateur level, and I soon found out we both shared an enjoyment out of taking photographs of old barns and other rural scenes.
That was a neat moment for me, considering I had always looked up to his intellect.
As one who has done some teaching at the high school and college level myself more out of an interest in young people than any special gifts for educating, I have certainly grown to respect the skills of someone like Dr. Miller even more.
He was a born teacher who knew how to engage his students, and countless Baylor pupils would likely agree with me that they are much richer for the experience.