Education TED Talks

Put your stuff in a box: Angie Miller at TED2012

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Angie Miller was the New Hampshire Teacher of the Year in 2011. She has three children, and she shares a box in which she keeps all her teaching paraphernalia. It’s filled with the thank-you notes you might expect, but it also includes some of her less savored moments, including letters of reprimand from administrators and even a note written by an 8th grade girl in her class. It read: “I am forever scarred! I just saw Mrs Miller’s grany panties… Ewwwwwww!!” To be fair, Miller seems more upset by the spelling mistake than the reality of her wearing “granny” panties.

So why does she keep these documents? Because, she says, “I don’t want to be remembered as perfect. I don’t want to be eulogized as something greater than I am.” These, she says, are her primary documents. And such documents, such letters and notes, are critical to writing history and influencing the future. She tells of John Quincy Adams, who wrote a letter about being an 8-year-old watching a battle with his mother, a battle in which a doctor who had previously saved Adams’ finger from amputation was dying. “Suddenly we have the President of the United States becoming an 8-year-old boy exposed to war, watching the man who saved his finger die in battle that would lead to formation of new country that he would grow up and lead,” she says. “That’s really cool!” The insight of such stories adds to our understanding of history–and how the world evolves over time.

Now, we have more means than ever before to capture history and leave behind records of our thoughts, hopes, dreams. But are we remembering to do this, she asks. Or do we find excuses not to? We need to not be lazy, she says. We all need to be historians, to leave behind a legacy. And so Miller concludes by asking us to “put something in a box. Put lots of things in a box,” she says. “Record history personally. Make it real. Represent your generation. If you don’t, somebody else might.”