Being dad: The teacher with a heart of gold

In honor of Father’s Day, we spoke to father, teacher and all-round good guy Mark Miller about what it takes to raise three boys and inspire children to learn

Mark Miller lives in Avondale, PA with his wife, Courtney, stepsons Jack, 10, and Vincent, 7, and son, Leo, 14 months. The couple is expecting a little girl later this year. Mark teaches middle school science and math and high school science to children who face various difficulties. He volunteers in the classroom during his time off.

“Jack and Vincent were four and just under two, respectively, when I first met them and was slowly transitioned into their lives. I believe their young ages played a role in making that transition easier. I don’t think Vincent remembers me not being around and Jack, even with his ironclad memory, remembers very little. I’ve been there for pretty much everything – the good, the bad and the ‘how did that possibly just come out of him?!’ moments.

As I became a constant presence in their lives, I quickly gained the nickname Kiki. Vincent gave it to me because he was a late talker and was only really saying ‘Mama’ and ‘NO!’ at the time. The alternative nickname tested by the boys was Gaga, so I’m thankful they chose Kiki.

With the welcoming of a new baby boy last year and a daughter on the way, the title ‘Daddy’ will soon be heard in our home. I’m fairly certain the boys will stick with Kiki because that’s who I am to them. I’m not their dad, and we’re all OK with that because I’m their Kiki. But if they choose to switch me to Daddy, that’s just fine by me.

If I reflect on my day-to-day role as a stepfather and father, I can’t say that I delineate between my biological and non-biological sons. The lack of shared genetic material is irrelevant. There are definitely differences between fatherhood and stepfatherhood, but they don’t determine how much I love all my children.

As for my work as a teacher, it’s a series of trials, tribulations, successes and rewards. Nothing is more frustrating than using every strategy you can think of when trying to help a student but struggling to find the exact method that your student needs you to find. That frustration lies not with the student’s struggles, but with my inability to give the student what they truly need.

On the contrary, nothing is more satisfying than seeing the proverbial light go on and you know a connection has been made. Though it’s satisfying to know that you were able to reach that student, it’s much more rewarding to see the joy that understanding brings forth in them.

It’s an educator’s job and mission to meet each student where they are, educationally and in life, and support them however they can. Many people think that a teacher’s role is to teach information, but it expands much further. Teachers have the opportunity and the privilege to influence their students in many ways. One can hope that every educator strives to be the most positive influence they can be.

I see my volunteer work in the classroom as a responsibility and a privilege. Besides, I’m sure most parent volunteers will agree that it’s really fun. There may have been a couple of occasions where math flash cards have turned into a little bit of a comedy act, which may have resulted in a little bit of non “inside voice” laughter taking place in the hallways.

Anyway, if I wasn’t volunteering, I’d be spending my time off going to the grocery store, cleaning, doing laundry (my Achilles heel!), mowing or watching Sports Center for the fourth hour in a row. None of those things compare to the meaningfulness of kids laughing at a giant trying to entertain them with flash cards or corny dad jokes, though!

If I could give three pieces of advice to my boys – since our girl hasn’t arrived yet – the first one would be: try to learn from my mistakes, but don’t be afraid of making your own. All the good things I’ve done in my life have led me to your mother, but so have all the mistakes!

Secondly, love, support, protect and take care of your wife first and foremost. Your actions toward your children’s mother model how a man should treat his wife to your sons and how a wife should expect to be treated by her husband to your daughters. Your relationship with your wife is their primary context of how a marriage is supposed to look. Though my boys often make a “that’s disgusting” face when I tell Courtney she’s sexy and give her a kiss, they usually have a goofy little grin on their faces too. I think it provides them with a sense of assurance that Kiki really, truly loves Mommy. This allows them to trust and remain open to me, and it’s one of the key reasons why our bond is so strong.

I’d also tell my boys to remember that they share every part of maintaining the household with their wives. There are no girl jobs or boy jobs… besides childbirth, that’s all her! However, I expect you to treat your wife like a queen and hold the door for her, carry things for her and protect her because it’s your honor to do so.

Finally, I’d advise them to try to be patient, which is something I struggle with every day. Your kids will argue with you, they’ll make messes, they’ll leave things in plain sight and then not be able to find them, and they’ll say they don’t like green beans after eating them simply because they heard their mom say that they’re not her favorite veggie. Appreciate the frustrations because someday they’ll be gone and you’ll be bored. Or so I’m told.”