With a “love for music my whole life,” Brenda Miller may not be forfeiting her love for teaching music, but she will be giving up a passion for teaching notes and instruments with the end of the school year as the West Liberty Middle School teacher braces for retirement after 34 years in the classroom.
“I started piano lessons at age eight and have been singing and playing ever since,” said Miller, pointing out she was inspired by her junior high vocal director to become a music teacher. “She encouraged me and gave me confidence through music. Her enthusiasm and passion for music and her teaching style influenced my career path.”
Miller grew up in Ainsworth, graduating from Highland High School before attending Central College in Pella and earning her BA degree in vocal music and a teaching certification from the University of Iowa.
Her first teaching job was a K-12 music position in Garnavillo, Iowa, where she taught for two years and then got married and moved to Nebraska. “I taught K-12 music in Wakefield, Nebraska for one year before coming back and teaching here in West Liberty,” Miller said, noting she came to West Liberty in 1991 and directed the high school choir, swing choir and two musicals.
In 1997, Miller transferred to the West Liberty third-eighth grade building, where she taught general music and junior high choir. “I was in that position until the new middle school was built and I have been teaching middle school music and choir ever since,” she said.
Teaching in West Liberty for 31 years, Miller says she’ll miss making daily connections with students.
“I love building relationships with them in middle school and watching them grow and mature as they go through high school,” she said. “I will miss seeing my wonderful colleagues as well. They are my school family.”
Miller says some of her best memories are the seven junior high musicals that she helped produce throughout the years. “I love watching students gain confidence through these musicals and then watching them continue to participate in the fine arts in high school,” she said.
“The best feeling about teaching for me has been the joy of being a part of a wonderful district and community long enough that I have former studentswho have become my good friends. I am blessed to have taught them and now their children,” Miller said.
“Being a teacher is more than just teaching the content, it is building positive, lifelong relationships,” she continued.
“Hopefully my students will feel that I have given them an appreciation for music but also positively impacted their lives beyond music.”
She said there have always been challenges in teaching, but said the past two years with battling the COVID-19 pandemic and learning how to teach virtually was her most challenging times.
The veteran teacher said it’s been even difficult returning this year to the classroom and trying to “help students reacclimate themselves to the school environment.”
Although she says to have been “extremely grateful” to have spent more than three decades with the district and community, she is looking forward to the flexibility in spending time with family and traveling.
With retirement, she plans to continue to teach private piano lessons as well as guitar lessons and be part of the music ministry at First Church United in West Liberty.
With husband Rob, the couple has two grown children including their daughter, Hannah, and her husband, Aaron, who live in West Liberty along with their nine-month-old grandson, Benjamin. Their son, Kyle, and his fiancee’, Emilie, live in West Branch. Her parents also live in West Liberty at Simpson Home.
Miller says she’s retiring this year to spend more time with her family and hopes to do some traveling as well with her husband, preferring to find a warming winter climate.
But there’s one thing Miller says she’ll miss the least about retiring from teaching.
“Probably getting up early. I have never been a morning person,” she said, noting she can’t wait to be able to “sleep late.”