Miller Takes On Teaching While Being A Two-Sport Athlete
Markie Miller started her student teaching at Fairbanks' Pearl Creek Elementary this fall after the COVID-19 pandemic caused her volleyball and basketball seasons to be postponed.
Markie Miller started her student teaching at Fairbanks' Pearl Creek Elementary this fall after the COVID-19 pandemic caused her volleyball and basketball seasons to be postponed.
Markie Miller (right) found a new mentor for her education career in Pearl Creek Elementary's Paula Addis.
Markie Miller (right) found a new mentor for her education career in Pearl Creek Elementary's Paula Addis.

Monday, December 7, 2020
by Kaho Akau, GNAC Media Relations Assistant

FAIRBANKS, Alaska – Collegiate student-athletes have a lot on their plates. But very few of their plates are as full as Markie Miller’s.

A senior from Brewster, Washington, Miller is an outside hitter on the University of Alaska Fairbanks volleyball team and a forward on the Nanooks’ women’s basketball team. While most student-athletes have time to sit back and relax when their seasons come to an end, Miller has had no days off throughout her college career. But that’s just how she likes it.

“It’s amazing to be able to play two sports in college,” Miller said. “My teammates are my sisters and being on two teams makes my family that much bigger. I have had so many great teammates on both teams that are now lifelong friends.”

Being a two-sport athlete comes with a price. Juggling two sports while trying to obtain a degree in elementary education with a minor in Spanish hasn’t been a cakewalk for Miller, who has learned to manage her time wisely and set her priorities straight. It has also been a long journey of keeping her body healthy and in shape for two separate seasons every year, but the support of the Nanooks’ staff has allowed her to do just that.

“I have awesome coaches and trainers who have pushed me and worked with me to allow me to play both sports,” she said. “I learned that hard work really does pay off and I can do whatever I set my mind to.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has stood in the way of Miller having normal senior seasons at Alaska’s Patty Center, but it was also a blessing in disguise for the aspiring educator in her.

Miller is in the midst of completing the student teaching portion of her elementary education major. That wouldn’t have been possible had she competed in full seasons of volleyball and basketball because student teaching requires a full yearlong commitment.

Coming into the fall semester, she had to weigh her options on how she would obtain a teaching license. One option was to complete an interdisciplinary degree in Spanish education and enroll in a postbaccalaureate program. The other option was to start working on a master’s degree in education in the spring. The pandemic made the decision for her. She didn’t have to choose either.

“I was extremely scared to begin my student teaching this year but I am so glad that I decided to do it,” she said. “I am lucky to have coaches like Kerri Nakamoto and Brian Scott, who support me and always have my back. It was really difficult to figure out what I was going to do this year but at the end of the summer, everything got sorted out quickly and I was thrown into student teaching.”

A day in the life of a student-teacher has been redefined thanks to the pandemic.

A typical day for Miller starts at 6 a.m. when she hits the gym for training sessions with assistant women’s basketball coach Jessie Craig. The two train together four days a week to accommodate Miller’s student teaching schedule.

If Miller is lucky, she’ll have time to stop for a coffee after her morning workout before arriving at Fairbanks’ Pearl Creek Elementary by 7:30 a.m. After hours of teaching second and third-graders over Zoom calls with her mentor teacher, Paula Addis, the two begin preparing learning materials for the upcoming week.

“She has been amazing throughout my student teaching experience,” Miller said about Addis. “She and I have almost the same teaching philosophy and that is really refreshing. I have learned so much from her and want my future classroom to have the same feel as hers.”

While Miller gets to share this experience with Addis, she wishes she could see her mentor teacher in action in a setting that isn’t virtual.

“I would love to be able to see her teach in a normal year,” she said. “She is great with the kids over Zoom but I know it would be even better in person. I want to continue to learn all that I can from her because she is insightful and an all-around amazing teacher and person. I hope I can be half as good as her when I have my own classroom.”

Once her student teaching duties for the day are completed, Miller rushes back to the Patty Center for practice. But she doesn’t always make it back in time. Some days, she’ll make it back to campus just in time for the full two-hour practices. On other days, she’s lucky to squeeze in an hour. Either way, she is happy to just spend time with her teammates and appreciates them more after a long day of teaching.

“Playing with my teammates is the best stress reliever so I am happy to get whatever time I can with them,” she said. “And of course, once a week, we’ll get together to watch The Bachelorette.”

Working with children requires patience and the ability to adapt to any situation and go with the flow. There are some days where Miller thinks she has the best lesson plan to teach her students but when the lesson begins, they don’t grasp the concepts the way she wanted them to. This forces her to slow her frenetic pace.

“My students have taught me how to slow down and appreciate every day,” she said. “Some mornings, I am ready to go, go, go because we have a lot to get through but when my students want to tell me about their day or what they got to do with their families, I remember that it’s OK to stop and be thankful for the time that we all have with each other.”

Miller expects to complete her student teaching in May. Whether she is teaching in person or by various virtual methods, she is eager to have a classroom of her own to call home. In a perfect world, she would like to teach second or third grade again and also plans to get English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Language Learners (ELL) endorsements. She also plans on getting a master’s degree and has looked into the possibility of becoming a special education teacher.

Markie Miller comes from a long line of teachers. She has aunts, uncles and grandparents who taught a wide range of students from elementary to college. Even her mother, Karol, is a third-grade teacher back in Brewster.

Markie was able to visit Karol’s classroom quite often when she was in high school and helped out whenever she could. It was a nice kickstart for her future as a teacher. But the best part was getting to witness Karol teach, and she took note of how the students responded to her mom.

“I may have just distracted the kids but we had fun,” Markie joked. “I love how my mom talks about her kids when she’s at home. I can see how much she cares about her kids and I know she makes a difference in their lives.”

There’s no better role model than a parent, and Markie has the best role model that she could have asked for.

The world stopped turning when the COVID-19 pandemic took it by storm in the spring. Since Karol wasn’t able to teach her students in person, they often called her on the phone for help with the homework she assigned. And no matter how late it was, she answered the phone.

“My mom never missed a moment to let her students know that they are cared for and valued,” she said. “Her students are lucky to have her and I want to go into teaching so I can be like her and make a difference in more kids’ lives.”

Another reason Miller decided to become a teacher is that she remembers how much her teachers in Brewster changed her life.

To this day, Miller still visits those teachers whenever she returns home from Fairbanks. She hopes to have the same impact on her future students that her teachers had on her.

“They helped shape me into the person I am today and I am thankful for every single teacher that I had in Brewster,” she said. “I want to be one of those teachers that has their kids come back to see them because they were such a positive influence in their students’ lives.”