GW professor James Miller won the D.C. Teacher of the Year Award last week, bringing the University its fifth award in the category in the past 10 years. Miller serves as director of the Africana Studies program and teaches in the American Studies and English departments. He collected his award at a ceremony at the National Press Club Thursday.
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching chose winners in each of the 50 states and the District, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Four national recipients are also awarded annually.
“I was inspired (to become a professor) by the people who taught me,” said Miller, citing excellent teachers in high school and college as his main influences.
The English department submitted a nomination for Miller because of his dedication to learning and interest in his subject of expertise.
“I remember a class in which he was giving a presentation. I remember thinking, one, how knowledgeable he was, and two, how easily that knowledge sat on his shoulders,” said Faye Moskowitz, English department chair. “Who wouldn’t want to learn from someone like that?”
This semester, Miller teaches two English courses, Literature of Black America and Ethnicity and Place. Most of the professor’s classes at GW have focused on African American writing.
“There’s certainly enough (in black literature) to provoke and challenge students,” Miller said.
Three panels of judges evaluated more than 400 candidates for the awards in four areas: impact on and involvement with undergraduate students, a scholarly approach to teaching and learning, contributions to undergraduate education within the institution and community, and support from colleagues and students.
“Jim has an incredible delight about the literature he studies and real gleefulness in talking about it,” said Phyllis Palmer, American Studies department chair.
The first panel selected about 100 semifinalists, which was narrowed down to about 30 by the second panel. CASE then forwarded the finalists to The Carnegie Foundation, which makes up the third and final panel.
Miller came to GW in 1998 from the University of South Carolina. He has also taught at Medgar Evers College and Trinity College and held visiting positions at Lafayette College and Wesleyan University. He began his teaching career in 1966 at the State University of New York in Buffalo.
CASE does not look at the University at which the professor teaches; rather, decisions are “focused squarely on the professor,” said Joye Mercer Barksdale, director of CASE public relations.
“(The awards are) given for the quality of the professor’s undergraduate teaching,” she said.
Past GW winners include Gerald Feldman, associate professor of physics (2001); James Oliver Horton, professor of history and American studies (1996); and Jarol Manheim, professor of political communication and political science (1995).
Barksdale said other factors, such as published works, are less important, although Miller has published several pieces of literature concerning his area of study. In the past several years, Miller has written Harlem: The Vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith and edited several volumes, including Approaches to Teaching Wright’s Native Son and the Dictionary of Literary Biography: 21st Century African American Literature.
The award is reserved for professors who demonstrate a dedication to teaching, commitment to students and creative approach to education, according to CASE.
“There’s a real sense that he’s very attentive, not just to the material, but to how everybody understands it,” Palmer said. “He brings these qualities to all his relationships.”
This year’s national winners were Alicia Juarrero, philosophy professor at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland; James Adams, professor of art at Manchester College in Indiana; Francisco Jim?nez, professor of modern languages and literature at Santa Clara University in California; and Dennis Jacobs, chemistry professor at the University of Notre Dame.
The national awards carry a $5,000 prize and there is still a “tremendous amount of respect and recognition” that comes with the statewide award, Barksdale said.
Winners were commended at a luncheon held at the National Press Club. John H. Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, keynoted the ceremony, and the four national winners also spoke.
“I was very honored,” Miller said. “It was very, very nice to sit in a room with talented teachers from across the country.”