A Q&A with ATPE’s 2019 Special Services Educator of the Year

Longtime ATPE member Donald John Milner was named Special Services Educator of the Year at the 2019 ATPE Summit in Houston. He shared with ATPE why he became an educator and the importance of building relationships within your school community.
Milner is a school guidance counselor at Tivy High School in Kerrville ISD, where he has worked for 13 years. Previously, he worked as a teacher and coach in Fort Bend and Bandera ISDs. He joined ATPE in 1996.
What made you want to be an educator?
I became an educator due to the influences of a few of my high school teachers and coaches, two history teachers in particular. They developed in me a love of history, and that led me toward a degree in history and education. I felt like I wanted to have the same impact they had on me with students whom I might work with in the future. That, along with the chance to coach, allowed me to fuel the flames of two huge interests in my life: history and sports. I earned my degree in counseling in order to have another option in an educational career. I felt like I would be able to have an impact on students in that arena as well. One of the history teachers I mentioned earlier had become a counselor, so with my respect for him at such a high level, I continued to follow in the path that he had followed. I am in my 30th year in education with almost exactly half as a teacher/coach and half as a counselor. Both have been very rewarding to me.
What advice would you give to a new educator coming into your position?
Become a “people person” and develop relationships. To me, life is about the relationships that are developed and the impact they can have on your life. As a new teacher, I would recommend getting to know the secretary, the custodians, the nurse, the librarian, administrators, etc., along with fellow teachers. When the staff and school become like a family, there is a caring attitude for each other that can carry over to everyone—students included. This advice was passed along to me from one of the head coaches I worked for, and his advice has proven to be the most beneficial advice I have ever received in education. If you develop these relationships/friendships and treat people right, you will be rewarded in the end. At the end of the day, that is what you will be left with when your time is over.
What is your favorite moment as an educator?
My favorite moment as an educator is really a collection of moments. I receive the most joy from being able to see and talk to former students and athletes. My career has gone long enough now where ex-students of mine have their own kids in high school. I enjoy running into an ex-student in town and hearing about their job, family, etc. I like to feel that I had a hand in helping them reach that stage of their life. I have many ex-athletes who are now coaches in various parts of the state. I enjoy keeping up with their teams and driving to various locations to watch them coach during the year. These experiences go back to my thoughts about building relationships that will make life enjoyable. I hope that my actions might help my ex-students and athletes have the same impact on students or adults in their lives so they can enjoy those same relationships.
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