March 1, 2024

In the public eye: Creating lasting connections motivates fifth grade teacher

Editor’s note: This is another in an ongoing series of Windham and Raymond town employee profiles.

By Ed Pierce

After teaching students at different levels ranging from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade, Deborah Milair found her ideal position as a Fifth-Grade teacher at Manchester School in Windham and says she loves coming to work every day.

Deborah Milair is in her sixth year of teaching
at Manchester School in Windham and says
that making connections withy her students
and watching them learn something new is the
best part of her job. She is serving as a team
teacher for fifth grade this year at the school.
Now in her sixth year of teaching at Manchester School, Milair has taken on a new role this year serving as a team teacher.

“Fifth Grade was the sweet spot for me, and out of my 11 years of teaching, I have spent eight years of it teaching fifth graders,” Milair said. “This is my first year of team-teaching here at Manchester, so my duties have changed a little this year from years past. However, my responsibilities include planning engaging and exciting lessons tied to our district learning targets for math, science, and social studies. I teach these lessons along with instilling real-world skills with my students to make what we learn meaningful. Then I grade their ability to complete the standards on their own. Many of these designed lesson plans tie into project-based learning where students are working collaboratively with hands-on activities to make learning fun and exciting.”

Milair grew up in Windham and graduated from Windham High School in 2009. She attended the University of Maine Farmington for her undergraduate studies and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education in 2012. In 2019, she earned a master’s degree from Capella University in teaching and learning.

Before becoming a classroom teacher, Milair spent half a school year as a reading intervention education tech. After that, she landed her first teaching position and has been a classroom teacher ever since.

“The best thing about my job has been, and always will be, the connections I make with my students,” she said. “My favorite thing is seeing the light bulbs go off above their heads when they learn something new, and the smiles that stretch across their faces when they see me recognizing their perseverance. I strive to make sure my students always know how much I care about them, not only as learners, but as human beings. I love that they trust me, share things with me, and that I get to watch them grow so much in such a short amount of time.”

According to Milair, the most challenging aspect of her work is having enough time to devote to everything the job demands.

“Sometimes it is like I am tasked with deciding what is more important such as taking 20 minutes to work out social issues and support students through their own emotional challenges or keep forging through lessons to reach as many students and standards as possible,” she said. “It's a hard balance. Not to mention, the balance of time with my job versus time with my own family at home.”

One thing the public may not know about her job is how emotionally taxing and draining it is, Milair said.

“Many things come home with us and affect us on deep emotional levels. My job doesn't start at 8 a.m. when kids walk through the door and end at 3 p.m. when they walk out. I am spending countless hours staying here before and after school planning, copying, cutting, gluing, prepping, and grading,” she said. “Sometimes some of that work also must come home with me, and between eating dinner with my family and climbing into bed myself, I sit down to catch up on that planning and grading. But most of what I am talking about, the things that come home with us, aren't tangible items. Teachers are natural life-long learners who are constantly critiquing our own work. We go home each day, sometimes lie awake at night wondering about the student who hasn't been at school for three days. Or another student who I meant to pull aside and chat with because she looked so sad after recess, but I never got to check on her. Each of these students have different home lives, expectations put on them and on themselves, yet I am challenged with making this classroom inviting for them all every day they enter it.”

She said the most important thing she has learned while working as a teacher is the importance of building relationships with students.

“It means taking the time to get to know who they are as individuals, what they like and dislike, how they learn, and who they strive to be in their lives and what makes them, ‘them.’ Truly seeing them, celebrating them, and caring about them. Only then can real learning happen.” <

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