Joyce Miller has worked as a legal secretary in an attorney's office and an executive secretary in a certified public accounting firm. Although those jobs helped pay bills, they were not as fulfilling as her first job -- teaching.
Mrs. Miller taught business education classes in Bryan County from 1972 to 1974, then moved to Atlanta with her husband so he could finish his degree in medical technology.
In Atlanta, she was a legal secretary for a mortgage attorney -- answering telephones, helping with mortgage closings and filing. After the couple moved back to Augusta in 1975, she was an executive secretary at a CPA firm.
After taking time off to have her daughter Jennifer, now 20, and son Justin, now 19, Mrs. Miller knew there was only one kind of desk she wanted to sit behind. So in 1981, she re-entered the classroom.
This time it was at Richmond County's Murphey Middle School, where she taught a few months before moving to her current position -- business education teacher at A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering High School.
"I missed the students and the interaction in the classroom," Mrs. Miller said. "In the classroom, nothing is ever slow-paced. You have to stay on your toes all the time."
Mrs. Miller's love of teaching has earned her recognition as a finalist for Richmond County Teacher of the Year.
She and four other Richmond County teachers were chosen from 56 nominees. The winner will be announced at 7 p.m. tonight during the Teacher of the Year banquet at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta.
Other Teacher of the Year finalists include Lisa Griffin Arnold, a science teacher at Academy of Richmond County High; Julie Vernon Purvis, a math teacher at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School; Lynda C. Jackson, vocational teacher at Richmond County Alternative School; and Carlyn G. Morris, a kindergarten teacher at Jamestown Elementary. The winner will take the position held by Melinda Starnes, a third-grade teacher at Garrett Elementary.
The nomination is Mrs. Miller's first. She said it is a humbling experience.
"There are so many great teachers out there," she said. "We have a lot of great teachers here at Johnson. I'm real proud to be here with them and appreciate their and the students' support."
Mrs. Miller, 49, said she is glad to be back in the classroom. She plans to teach for a while and hopes to leave behind a positive legacy when she retires.
"I would like students to say they learned a lot and enjoyed learning in my classroom," she said. "I try to keep students active with hands-on projects instead of lecturing them."
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, students in her medical assisting class performed duties that would be required if they worked in a doctor's office. The students practiced filing techniques and medical etiquette.
Some worked from textbooks and some worked on computers as Mrs. Miller moved from desk to desk answering questions.
"She's a really great teacher," said Amy Bodiford, a junior at A.R. Johnson. "She actually makes learning fun. She gives us a lot of hands-on activities."
Techniques students learn in Mrs. Miller's class come in handy when they are sent to work, during part of the semester, in a doctor's office.
The cooperation between businesses and schools is a step in the right direction, Mrs. Miller said.
"Over the (school) year, we're becoming more aware that everyone has an important role to play in education -- parents, businesses, the community," she said. "It takes everyone working together to make sure kids are productive in society."
Principal Vivian Pennamon said Mrs. Miller is one of her most respected teachers.
"Her patience and personality are two of the things that make her stand out," Dr. Pennamon said. "She is also a steady person. I always know what to expect from her and how she will respond. She's just an all-round genuinely nice lady."
Dr. Pennamon said most members of the student body, even those who are not in Mrs. Miller's class, wore buttons recently supporting her as county Teacher of the Year.
"She sees the students as young people and not children," Dr. Pennamon said. "She sees them as people just starting in life, and she respects them. When students respect teachers and teachers respect students, you have a perfect learning environment. She has 100 percent respect of her students as well as adults."
Rewards of teaching are something a person cannot comprehend until becoming a teacher, Mrs. Miller said.
"It may only be thankful in an intransigent nature, but it's self-satisfying," she said. "It feels good knowing that you've helped someone. "Teaching is one of the most important jobs there is. We should take it more seriously, go in class and give 100 percent every day and require 100 percent."
Family: Husband Greg; children Jennifer, 20, and Justin, 19
Education: Bachelor of science degree in business education from Georgia Southern College and an interdisciplinary master of arts degree in business education from University of South Carolina
Motto:The Golden Rule. "I try to treat others like I would like to be treated."
Years teaching: 21, 18 in Richmond County schools. She worked for a few months at Murphey Middle School and has spent the rest at A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering High School.
Hobbies: Walking, reading, home projects and participating in her church, Augusta Primitive Baptist.
Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five Richmond County teachers are finalists for Teach of the Year. The winner will be announced at 7 p.m. Thursday at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta. Today's story is part of a five-part series profiling the finalists
Sunday: Carylin G. Morris, Jamestown Elementary School
Monday: Lisa Griffin Arnold, Academy of Richmond County High School
Tuesday: Julie Vernon Purvis, John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School
Wednesday: Lynda C. Jackson, The Alternative School
Today: Joyce Miller, A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering Magnet School