Ensworth Coffee Talk (Jim Miller)

Ensworth GrindI have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Miller’s wonderful directing on the stage, assistant director of A Christmas Carol and faculty director of the Student One-Act Plays. However, some of his best direction can be seen in a program he leads at the high school called Project TALK.

Jim Miller 019Tell us a little about the work you are doing with Project TALK and how it impacts our students. 

Project TALK stands for Thinking, Acting and Listening with Kindness. Our aim is simply to increase dialogue amongst students. We hope to spark conversations between students who don’t normally hang with each other, enhance the already strong sense of empathy amongst the student body, and perhaps expand student’s understanding of differing points-of-view. My job has been largely about recruiting, and training student facilitators, and then empowering the facilitators to design the curriculum for Project TALK discussions. Ensworth has invested a great deal of faith and trust in our young people by allowing them to converse during the school day without the teachers’ presence. I’m proud to be a small part of something so unique to our community.

With all the work you do with our theater productions and Project TALK I often forget that most of what you do is around the harkness table where you teach our high school students English. What is your favorite book to teach to our students?

I adore teaching Toni Morrison’s Jazz  to the juniors and seniors in my Revenge Literature elective.  My class is usually their first exposure to perhaps our greatest living novelist, and the novel is set in the Harlem Renaissance, a period where I’ve done a great deal of my own scholarship. The novel experiments with magical realism, memory and narrative in so many cool ways.  For example, there are multiple, often anonymous, narrators, each of whose voices mimics a musical genre of African-American origin, like jazz, blues, and gospel. Jazz is a great challenge for the students and they always feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment as they begin to connect with the text on deeper levels.

Jim Miller 016What book is currently on your bedside table?

Book? Singular? I always have a few books percolating at once. But that’s the thing in the age of the eReader, isn’t it? You can carry several books with you so easily.  Right now, I’m working on Tom Perrotta’s Bad Haircut: Stories from the Seventies, trying to finish up Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice before the movie release, and I just started John Lahr’s new biography of Tennessee Williams. Those are all on the iPad, but my waiting list of eBooks and traditional paper texts is embarrassingly long. I come by my bibliophilia honestly: when they married, my parents made a pact never to argue over the bill from the bookseller.

What is your favorite Ensworth tradition you look forward to every year?

I’m always impressed with the senior capstone project presentations. That students are willing to take on extra course work to pursue a passion outside our curriculum really moves me. During the end-of-year presentations, I inevitably learn something from our seniors, and I’m particularly inspired by the student presentations that are completely alien to my own discipline—I’ve learned for example that chemistry isn’t really as bad as I remember from my own high school days.

What faculty member at the lower/middle school would you like to see featured next?

My buddy, Virginia Voigt!


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