From the classroom to the courtroom

University High School history teacher Joe Miller is leaving teaching behind to work in the courtroom.

Joe Miller has been a history teacher at University High School for the past eight years and is saying goodbye to the school and its students to pursue his passion for the courtroom.

Throughout his eight years, he has been the advisor of the community service club, the Class of 2019, the Black Student Union, and the University Times newspaper. He served as the head coach for indoor track and field and baseball. He has also served on the School Governance Council and the Discipline Committee. This year he was voted Teacher of the Year.

During his first 18 years of life, he lived in Southbridge, Massachusetts. After graduating from high school, he attended Providence College in Rhode Island to study Political Science with a minor in History. He spent a year in Boston, Massachusetts before moving to Connecticut, where he has lived since 2011.

He moved to Connecticut to attend law school but after a semester, he realized that he was not at a place to attend law school and take it seriously.

“I wasn’t really sure where it was headed.” Mr. Miller said. “It seemed like it might turn into a very expensive mistake.”

As he was having doubts about the path he was on, he started volunteering in the Hartford Public School System. After working in a preschool classroom, he found that he liked working with children, so he started subbing on his days off and soon left law school. He eventually started subbing every day and became a full-time paraprofessional at Kennelly School, providing academic and behavioral support, and also began coaching. In 2015, he became certified to teach.

“If you had told me while I was in college that I would spend years of my life working in the school system, I would have been baffled.” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller was part of a teaching program called Teach for America, which helps place teachers in schools in low-income communities throughout the country. UHSSE had a history teacher position open at the time and his resume was given to Matt Folan, the principal of UHSSE at the time, and he was hired. A year after he was hired, he began coaching the baseball team.

During his years teaching at UHSSE, he saw that some of the staff’s and students’ challenges came from dysfunctional systems, not individual actions.

“I thought that law school was an opportunity to address some of those systematic challenges to a greater extent than I could in the classroom.” Mr. Miller said.

He also explained that with the school system being more reliant on technology and the role of a teacher in the classroom changing, he thought it would be a great time to explore law school again.

Being both a law student and a teacher has been an experience for Mr. Miller that he will never forget.

“I think that doing both at the same time definitely made me both a better teacher and a better student,” Mr. Miller said.

He explained that this became apparent to him during the COVID-19 lockdown when everything was virtual. He felt what his students felt sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time for virtual learning, and that shaped his view of how to communicate effectively virtually.

Mr. Miller said that he will miss UHSSE and would not trade his time here for anything.

“I can only hope that I impacted my students’ lives half as much as they impacted mine,” said Mr. Miller.

In May, Mr. Miller graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law with his Juris Doctor (J.D.) and will spend the next year serving as a law clerk at the Connecticut Supreme Court. As a law clerk, he will be working with one of the seven justices to help them draft opinions and prepare for oral arguments.

“The Supreme Court takes on some of the toughest issues and most significant cases in our state, so I’m excited to be there. Our school literally exists because of a ruling the court made, so I know what an impact its decisions can have,” he said. “It’s a lot of research and writing, which I enjoy, and during law school, there were always so many things going on that I rarely got to just sit and focus on law, so I’m looking forward to being able to do that.”

During his time at UHSSE, he has connected with several students and players. This year was no exception.

“One of the best coaches and teachers I’ve ever had.” Isiah Franklin ‘25 said.

“Everyone who has had him as a coach knows he truly wants the best for the team and does an amazing job of supporting the team in whatever ways possible.” Cassidy Ward ’23 said.

When asked if he wanted to leave any final words, Mr. Miller wanted to add this:

“I hope my students remember that history isn’t a story of good people versus bad people, but a story of real people like us who were confronted with huge challenges and sometimes rose to the occasion and sometimes fell horribly short. I hope they give people the benefit of the doubt and continue to embrace debate and discussion rather than shutting out perspectives they don’t agree with.”