Press "Enter" to skip to content

Doc Miller Irreplaceable: What Madison’s Losing

Last updated on 2011.06.17

Elisa Sand gives James "Doc" Miller valedictory coverage as he ends 38 years of teaching high school English in South Dakota.

Doc Miller, who taught me speech and composition and directed me in seven MHS plays, leaves Madison for true love and community theater in Spirit Lake, Iowa. He leaves with a few comments worth remembering:

[When he started at Madison in 1975], Miller said, he was one of six English teachers and Madison offered a host of elective courses for students, including drama, newspaper and radio.

With Miller's retirement, there are three English teachers at MHS. Administrators say that is a reflection of declining enrollment. Miller said many of the elective courses have also been cut. His AP Literature and AP Composition courses will soon become the responsibility of other faculty [Elisa Sand, "Miller Completes Rich Career in Teaching, Debate, Plays at MHS," Madison Daily Leader, 2011.05.26].

Declining enrollment? In 1989, I was among 92 MHS graduating seniors. This year MHS graduated 95 seniors. I had four MHS English teachers. Now there are three. This year's budget cuts are shortchanging our kids in a core academic area.

We are also losing an educator of great principle:

"We need to give the brightest and the best every opportunity we can," he said. "I invested 40 years of my life in education. It's what makes a republic function -- an educated [populace]."

When it comes to teaching, Miller's expectations for the students never changed.

"We have to be careful how we create self esteem with students," he said. "It's earned, not given. Class expectations shouldn't adjust down to the students. Students need to adjust up to the expectations of the program" [Sand, 2011.05.26].

Those aren't just talking points memorized from some graduate seminar. Doc Miller enacted those demanding principles in every assignment, every grade, every bit of feedback he gave to students. And thanks to the state budget cuts that Senator Russell Olson celebrated, Madison will not seek a suitable candidate to replace Doc Miller and carry on his principles. Madison High School will thus be a lesser school next year.

* * *

Perhaps I read too much into Doc's comments, but I can't help raising an eyebrow at this passage:

Miller is planning a move with his fiancee to Spirit Lake, Iowa, where he could be found directing at the Sami Bedell Center for the Performing Arts.

"It's designed as a functional theater," he said [Sand, 2011.05.26].

Fellow Bulldog thespians will understand the implication.


  1. LK 2011.05.29

    I have an immense amount of respect for Doc Miller and his accomplishments.

    His statement,

    “We have to be careful how we create self esteem with students. . . .It’s earned, not given. Class expectations shouldn’t adjust down to the students. Students need to adjust up to the expectations of the program”

    should be in every education theory textbook.

  2. Cam Corey 2011.05.29

    I also had Doc as a teacher within the hallowed halls of MHS, but my memories of him extend to my beloved Lake Herman when he was in charge of the Jr. Ranger program at Lake Herman State Park. I spent Saturday mornings with Doc as a youngster walking the trails learning about native grasses and birds. Doc tought us how to cook over an open campfire, which I have replicated over the years. Doc has touched the lives of many in various ways. I wish Doc an exciting and fullfilling retirement.

  3. Charlie Johnson 2011.05.29

    Unfortunately what we lose in not replacing Doc Miller is in proportion to what he gave to education in the last 40 years. What bright future "Doc Miller" is now in his/her college years interested in educational career path who may not chose that career because of what GDD and the legislature has done to public education? We can not even come close to putting a dollar value on that. What has frustrated myself and most people on a local level, is the immense amount of interest(pro and con)on brick and mortar but little on ongoing budget matters and the staffing levels at our schools. Where should be our emphasis? I for one salute Doc Miller. The impact that he has left on 40 years of student involvement and growth has no measure. In every profession there comes along a few "giants". Doc Miller is one of those educator "Giants".

  4. AnnMarie 2011.05.29

    Well, it is lower than class of 90 which had 104. Course two were exchange students and our year was always an oddity, larger than any others for years.

    But anyway, wow! I had no idea he was still there. I know how much he did for you and my brother, and so many other drama folks. He was also a great classroom teacher.

    And only 3 English teachers????

  5. Anonymous 2012.04.15

    I was a sophomore last year, and I only had one chance to be in a class with Doc Miller because of it - World History. Even though it was his last year and his retirement was so close and just waiting for him ("I'm off fishing," he'd say with a wink as a mantra whenever the class was especially ignorant that day)... he gave us the best lessons in world history we could have had. He never gave us dry, textbook, "objective" history. He wasn't afraid to apply ethics and philosophy, or to criticize the present. I only had him for a year, but he made a great impression on me.

Comments are closed.