Spotlight: Tiffany Miera (CO '22)February 17, 2023
Fifth grade teacher Tiffany Miera (CO ’22) respects the way upper elementary students think: “I love their creative problem-solving and willingness to try new things.” We surprised her at Needham Elementary in Durango with Colorado's 2022 Milken Award on October 11, 2022.
Milken Family Foundation: How did you end up in education?
Tiffany Miera (CO ’22): I always wanted to be something where I was in a position to help others. I was actually a biology major when I first started college. I wanted to be a doctor. My sophomore year I somehow ended up taking an education class and had to get hours in a classroom. That experience was awesome. I loved being in the classroom and helping the kids grow and learn. That’s when I realized that’s how I wanted to help people. I changed my major to elementary education and haven’t looked back.
MFF: You have led your students to learning growth during a difficult time [i.e. through the pandemic]. What are some of the strategies you’ve employed to support their progress?
Tiffany: We have done a lot the last few years around having a growth mindset. We have implemented skills blocks in our day, which allows us to look at data and create lessons and small groups that support skills they may be missing from the past few years. This way we can fill gaps and teach our grade level standards. I also use a lot of visual thinking routines and make our problems real-world and applicable.
MFF: What do you like about working with elementary students?
Tiffany: Fourth and fifth grade are the best! I love how they are ready to be a lot more independent, but they’re still sweet and somewhat innocent. They still have an enthusiasm for learning that I think can fade as some students get older. I love their creative problem-solving and willingness to try new things.
MFF: What are some of the benefits of teaching in the community where you grew up?
Tiffany: I often see my students outside of school. It’s always fun when they see me playing recreational sports with their families, swimming at the river, or at the gym. It’s something out of context and helps us connect. I have students whose parents were my classmates. It’s just another connection to the students and helps build relationships.
I like being able to watch the kids participate in things they’re passionate about outside of school. I get to see them in a whole different light. I can build engagement by showing that I care about the students as a whole, not just academically. I’ve been to dance recitals, music recitals, baseball, soccer, basketball games, art shows, tons of things to support students. It’s all about making connections, which is hugely important in growing and supporting students.
MFF: How was your first year of teaching?
Tiffany: That seems like such a long time ago! My first year was great. I did a lot of learning and adding to my bag of teacher tricks, especially in the area of classroom management. I was really lucky because I had a great team helping me. We planned together, we went over behavior issues together, they were my rocks! For me that’s what stands out about that year. I think we all struggle as first-year teachers, but without them, I would have struggled even more. They set a really good example of how to be a good teammate and leader, which really stuck with me as I got new teammates and student teachers.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Tiffany: So many teachers have inspired me throughout my career. In college one of my professors, Jennifer Trujillo, really helped inspire me as I went into education. In my first few years my teammate Julie McCue was like my guiding light. I credit her for teaching me so much about being a teacher who holds all students to high expectations, while also showing they care and believe in students and want them to be successful. In mathematics, I am really inspired by Jo Boaler, Cathy Williams and Cathy Fosnot.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Tiffany: I was completely shocked! I definitely was not expecting to hear my name called. I kept thinking of all the amazing teachers we have at Needham who could have won the Award. When my name was called I had to ask my friend, “What did they say?” and “What do I do?” I remember thinking That can’t be right, they must have said the wrong name. I was in disbelief and a little overwhelmed! Definitely not the person to stand up in front of a crowd and talk about myself.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Tiffany: My kids were so excited. When I got back to class they all wanted to have a huge group hug. It was really cool because all through the school kids would stop and congratulate me and give me hugs even if I had no clue who they were. I got a bunch of emails from past students congratulating me as well. The emails were really cool to get. It was amazing reconnecting with former students and hearing about what they are doing now.
MFF: Any plans for the $25,000?
Tiffany: Pay off my student loans from my master’s degree and save the rest. Maybe a little beach vacation thrown in there somewhere!
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Tiffany: Success is when my students are feeling successful and engaged, when they are problem-solving, using their critical thinking skills, and applying things across the curriculum. And also, of course, when they show growth in content areas.
MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?
Tiffany: I hope they remember that I believed in them and their potential, and that is why I pushed them to problem-solve and be critical thinkers. I hope they understand that even though at times it was frustrating, I knew they could do it and wouldn’t give up on them until they were successful.
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