When Lauren Miller was in Grade 1, her teachers told her that she could only use her right hand to write. Miller, whose dominant hand has always been her left, says this was the start of a childhood of struggling through school.
“I found math really difficult,” Miller said. “I had an older brother who was really smart and teachers used to compare me to him and say, ‘Why can’t you be like your brother?’ So it was the whole self esteem thing too that came along with it. Just not having faith in myself, not feeling like I could do it.”
She didn’t know it then, but Miller would go on to use that insight — that feeling of not being good enough — to help students years later as a teacher.
“I think it made me very aware of how we can impact kids without even knowing it. Our actions have such a direct impact, even though they might be really insignificant to us. The way we talk to kids, the way we spend time with them, just acknowledging and looking for the things that they’re good at and focusing on that.”
Originally from north of Edmonton, Miller moved to Prince Rupert when her husband’s work with Transport Canada transferred him to the city. The move was supposed to be short-term, and the couple along with their two daughters planned to stay for one or two years before moving to Vancouver Island. That was 28 years ago.
“Yeah, we just never left. We loved it here. Still do,” Miller said.
Meanwhile, Miller got involved in the schools as an educational assistant, helping teachers in the classroom. At the encouragement of her coworkers, she enrolled at the college to get her teacher’s certificate. She’s worked in School District 52 ever since she graduated in 1999. At the end of the last school term, Miller retired after 17 years of working as a learning services teacher.
From helping with speech and language to children with learning disabilities, the learning service creates education plans based on individual needs.
“I had problems in school,” Miller said, “and I saw a lot of the same things when I was working with the kids as an [educational assistant]. I empathized with them. I could identify with what they were going through. Taking the learning services training helped me to directly work with those kids.”
Miller proved to be a dedicated teacher. “My kids would say, ‘Mom, you spend more time with your kids at school than you do with us,’ which was sometimes true,” she admits.
Since her husband Terry retired three years ago he’s been waiting for her to join him, Miller said with a laugh. Not that she’s slowed down at all. If anything, Miller is busier than ever. She and Terry attended one of their daughter’s weddings in Halifax, and stayed on an extended trip to look around.
“It’s been really busy. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I was working. I wouldn’t have been able to do all this,” she said.
Back in Price Rupert, there’s not a lack of things to do. When Miller’s not spending her days gardening, she’s the secretary of the camera club and has offered to volunteer with the schools. “Now I have more time to help and get dirty gardening with the kids.”
Much of her time is spent at the Ice House. That troublesome left hand turned out to be gifted at making art, much of which is on display at the gallery. Her colourful landscape photographs are framed in one corner, while decorative mobiles hang above her moccasins and popular magic wands in another.
While Miller formally retired from teaching, kids continue to inspire her through their creativity and imagination. She hopes that the Ice House’s new location will return the favour and inspire kids and adults alike.
“I think art is huge. It’s a way to reach a lot of kids who sometimes struggle in school. Some of them are so talented, but if they don’t feel successful in the regular academic stream, they don’t have the confidence to pursue their art sometimes. I think having art available for the community to give the kids ideas, have them see what’s here, and give workshops would be really helpful.”
Since she retired, Miller has been working extra hours at the Ice House while the new location in the museum is under renovation. She’s looking forward to it opening. Like many of the efforts Miller has dedicated her time to, art, she said, “gives people a place to shine.”