Wake names Luke Miles of Durant Road Middle School as Teacher of the Year

sbarr@newsobserver.comMay 10, 2013 

— Luke Miles comes from a long line of teachers. The eighth-grade social studies teacher at Durant Road Middle School hardly has enough fingers to tick off all the educators in his family.

There’s his career counselor father, a professor grandfather, a great-grandmother who taught at Cary High School, and many more.

Miles, 26, counts them all as inspirations, but when he sat down to write his portfolio for the Wake County Teacher of the Year award – an honor he took home Thursday night – it was his paternal grandmother who came to mind.

Miles’ grandmother, a marketing teacher, was still in the classroom as he grew up, and he saw how her enthusiasm for the material she taught and the genuine connections she formed with her students made her a powerful teacher. Outside of the classroom, former students would stop her in restaurants and stores to say hello and recount how she had affected their lives.

“They loved her because they knew that she loved them back,” he said.

On Friday, Durant Road’s teachers and students echoed his words as they talked about what Miles, who has been teaching for only four years, means to their community. Turns out his grandmother’s lessons stuck.

“Who doesn’t love Mr. Miles?” said eighth-grader Charles Johnson as he and fellow eighth-grader Connor Finnegan helped put up posters in the classroom Miles will teach in when his students return from a track-out on Monday.

The two don’t have Miles as a classroom teacher, but they are on the school soccer team he coaches, and they know his reputation well.

Sure, Miles earns points for his low-key, fun-loving nature, they said. But just as importantly, their friends say he knows when to be serious and how to make his classes tough but engaging.

“They say that it’s really interesting and how they’re usually not bored,” Connor said.

A sense of engagement

A strong sense of engagement is what the school’s principal, Drew Sawyer, notices whenever he enters Miles’ classroom.

“When I walk into his class, as a principal, the first thing I want to do is become an active participant in what’s going on,” Sawyer said. “It’s not just an observation.”

Miles teaches in what’s known as a “flipped” classroom. Rather than lecturing in class, he records short videos explaining the material his students need to know. Students are assigned to watch the videos online for homework and come to school ready to apply what they’ve learned.

Using the model means that earlier this year, during a lesson on the New Deal, Miles didn’t have to stand at the front of the classroom and lecture about the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Instead, he tasked small groups of students with finding one word that captured how that era’s policies affected the country and then led a discussion that filled in blanks, corrected errors and expanded on important points.

“I can create more time for discourse and collaboration and deeper thinking,” he said of the flipped model.

Miles added that he would never want teachers to have to use the model if it didn’t work for them. But teachers have to explore new methods and find what does work, he said.

“It’s one of thousands of innovative ways to be teaching, but with the way we’re shifting, we need to choose one of those thousands of ways to be innovative,” he said. “Everybody has to change their teaching style. We have to adapt to an evolving curriculum, evolving students.”

This month, Miles earned a master’s degree in instructional technology from N.C. State University, where he studied education as an undergraduate. While in college there, he met his wife, Caroline Miles, who teaches sixth grade at Durant.

In their free time, Miles said, he and Caroline often end up back at the school.

“Teaching consumes you, and it either consumes you positively or negatively,” he said. “If it consumes you positively, you don’t want to leave. You just like being there.”

Miles said that part of what makes Durant such a great place to be is the collaboration among teachers. They share ideas and lessons, and have fun together, too.

“It’s a family,” he said. “I have no desire to be anywhere else.”

Barr: 919-836-4952

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