Schaumburg High School Music Department Chair Kevin Miller has gotten into the habit of telling his senior band members they have work hard because it's their last year.
Now, his students are playing that card on him.
"We're calling it our senior year," Miller said with a tone that clearly expressed he's sad about his upcoming retirement at the end of this school year.
Miller, 55, of Schaumburg, said what he enjoys most about teaching has remained the same over his 33-year career.
"I've always loved the kids. It's all about the kids. Every day I come to school they make me laugh -- there's newness," he said, adding that the action verb he uses to describe his job is "play."
Inspired by his own high school band director to pursue teaching, Miller majored in music at Northern Illinois University and started his career in 1980 at Fremd High School as a student teacher.
"When you come out of college, you know nothing," he said. "I still don't know very much. I think as you get older you realize how little you really know. But gosh, your first couple years of teaching you're just like, 'Oh my God, what am I doing here? How am I going to affect these kids?'"
Miller said it took only a few years of teaching for the first day of school nerves to go away. "You start to get some confidence in what you're doing; you start to see some success," he said.
But even in his last year, Miller is sure he'll have jittery moments.
"There are times when I'm walking on that stage saying a little prayer," he said. "You hope, OK, I gave them the tools, hopefully they'll be able to use the tools I gave them. But it doesn't always happen. That's kind of the fun in it too. You don't know. If everything was for sure, it'd be easy."
Miller has techniques he's carried over into every new school year -- his freshmen practice daily with a rhythm book he used as a student teacher -- but his philosophy has evolved.
"I think when I started teaching I had this really hard-core approach, that these bands were going to be the next Chicago Symphony," he said. "I think as I've gotten older, you just get more realistic, and I think more student-oriented. Most of the kids aren't going to be music majors ... I've just become more focused on the total student."
That's why, Miller wants his students to walk away from his class with lessons in team building, leadership, discipline and organization.
"I just hope that I made an impact on people in one way or another, whether it be music, or some way of being kind, or something they were able to walk away with from here and say, Yeah, I remember in Miller's class we talked about this," he said.