St. John’s Prep physics teacher among private school best

Categories: Around the Diocese

August 20, 2013, edition
By Rita Meyer

Charles Miller, physics instructor at St. John’s Preparatory School, was named this past year’s grade 9-12 “Honor Teacher” at the Minnesota Independent School Forum Private Education Award Celebration May 9. He was selected as one of four finalists out of the many nominees from 140 private schools in Minnesota.

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Charles Miller helps his first year physics students study for an exam at St. John’s Preparatory School. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt

Miller, 42, has been teaching upper school science for 14 years. Prior to his eight years at SJP, he taught at Princeton High School. He received his bachelor’s degree in biology and philosophy from the University of Tulsa, Okla., his teaching certificate from Iowa State University and his master’s in education technology from Bemidji State, Minn.

Miller became familiar with MISF when he applied for a grant to do a “flipped” classroom. A flipped classroom is when the instructor produces a video, sends it home with his students to watch and then discussion follows in a subsequent class period. That technique allows for more discussion time because watching the video in the classroom has been eliminated.

The awarded grant put SJP’s address onto the MISF mailing list. When colleague Eric Yanke saw the award qualifications, he immediately thought of nominating Miller.

“It’s amazing what he’s done for SJP in the short amount of time he’s been here,” said Yanke a second year chemistry teacher. “He’s always available to bounce ideas off of, to lend advice and offer suggestions.”

An achievement of Miller’s has been the reversal of the order students take their science courses.

“If you understand physics then chemistry makes more sense,” Miller stated.

That’s why at SJP, students take their science courses in this order: physics, chemistry and then biology. And the physics courses are offered in close conjunction with corresponding math classes. At many other schools, it’s just the reverse.

This switch in the department has produced award-winning results including students with higher SAT scores, a larger number of students pursuing post-secondary degrees in chemistry and physics, as well as students, particularly females, who aren’t afraid of science and are better prepared for college-level courses.

“The only reason I’m able to do the things I do is because of the gifts I’ve been given,” Miller said. He credits numerous people for helping shape him into the instructor he is today.

Included in that long list are his parents, his high school physics teacher, his predecessor of 53 years at SJP, Pete Froehle, his colleagues, as well as the director of the Wesley Foundation at Tulsa University.

Miller fondly recalls his supportive demeanor.

“He invited me to prayer services. He was a great listener. He encouraged me to do what God would want me to do.”

Miller’s journey of following his call to be a teacher hasn’t necessarily been a straight one. Fourteen years ago his job title was “shift manager” for the St. Cloud Best Buy store. “I liked the feeling of being done,” he described when his shift was over, something teachers rarely experience because they’re always preparing for the next lesson.

Before being offered the next step up in management, that of assistant store manager, when “the pay would have been better than teaching,” Miller knew he needed to switch gears if he was going to return to education.

“I love the enthusiasm of young people learning they can do something they didn’t think they could do.”

When asked how he brings faith into the classroom Miller remarked, “I was afraid teaching in a private setting would be binding but it’s just the opposite. When there are questions we can’t figure out, the answer is God.”

Besides teaching at SJP, Miller will be entering his eighth year as both the middle and upper school Knowledge Bowl coach. That position has seen his teams garner first place finishes in the state competition numerous times.

Additionally, he is the den leader and assistant pack leader for his son Owen’s Scout troop. He plays guitar for Sunday school kids ages 3 through fifth grade at his church, Bethlehem Lutheran. He also plays the guitar in the SJP faculty band, the Shenanigans.

His wife, Jenny, is a psychologist in private practice and his daughter, Katie, will enter seventh grade at SJP this fall. The family lives in Sauk Rapids. Their goal is to visit all 50 states by the time Owen graduates from high school. They’re up to 30 so far.

Whether it’s helping a student observe a candle through a lens to determine whether the image she’s looking at is virtual or real or coaching a Knowledge Bowl member on whether Hebrews is located in the Old or the New Testament, Miller is quick to lend a hand.

“If I see a place where I can help, I will,” he offered. “I try to live by example.”