In the late 1940s, they came with youthful enthusiasm to Forrest Miller's first math classes. Eager to learn, they were bright, orderly and generally curious about the fundamentals of algebra, calculus and trig.
During 20 years at Northwood High in Silver Spring, Miller helped them hone their mathematical abilities. His math team was on a winning streak. He had the praise and respect of his students and his colleagues. Those were his halcyon years as a teacher.
In January, Miller left it all behind. The pressures of teaching in the 1980s were more than he could cope with. In the jargon of the times, Forrest Miller, at 57 and with more than half a lifetime of teaching experience, is "burned out."
Miller said he made the decision to leave the Montgomery County school system with great reluctance. Only after admitting that he was nearly overwhelmed by the physcial symptoms of stress was he able to follow his doctor's advice. He began to use the 238 days of sick leave he had accumulated over the years and to consider the possibility of permanently leaving the profession.
"I cannot," Miller says in a halting voice, "imagine ever going back into the classroom, but I don't know what I'll do if I can't teach."
Miller says his problems began in the late 1960s, when "public schools decided to change their educational philosophies and to lower their academic standards."
"Suddenly, we were worried about being egalitarian, about preserving students' rights, about everything except whether or not Johnny could read, or write, or count. We said that the student and teacher should have equal rights, and slowly but surely, we eroded both the system and people's respect for it."
Miller, who had been teaching higher mathematics for years, was asked at that time to take over a few low-achievement-level algebra classes. He accepted the assigment -- under protest.
"When I came through the system," Miller recalls, "I worked my way up. I didn't always have the best assignments or the best kids . . . but now the administration tells you, 'you can't expect beginning teachers to handle those kinds of probelms.'"
Miller said his problems in the classroom were intensified by the presence of drugs, low parental interst and an adminitrative view of the student-teacher relationship that was much different from his own.
"The time was, if a student misbehaved, the principal and later the parents, took care of it for you," he says. "Now, the teacher is expected to handle everything -- to keep order in the classroom by tolerating everything the students do. And we're beginning to get a generation of students who have come through the system simply being tolerated."
In 1978, declining enrollment dictated a personnel cutback at Northwood. Although he was among the senior members of the math department, Forrest Miller was told he would be transferred to Springbrook High School.
Miller believes he was among those marked for transfer because he was having discipline problems.
"I could have (handled the students) when I was a young man," Miller says, but not now . . . not in the face of all the drugs, the bad behavior . . . The kids mocked me. They put me down. I'm sure that they thought, 'Hey, here's an old guy in his 50s and we're getting the best of him.' And they did. It really got me down."
The transfer was delayed when another teacher resigned from the Northwood staff, and Miller stayed through the 1977-78 school year and for one semester in 1979. But his problems did not lessen -- they included an incident in which a student "just cussed me out right in class. . ."
The teacher's physical symptoms -- migrane, insommia, high blood pressure, and an ulcer -- intensified and, Miller said, "I just couldn't handle it -- I got so uptight. And I guess in the back of my mind, I knew that was it."
Miller tried to return to teaching at Springbrook at the beginning of the current school year. But with his confidence badly eroded and his nerves on edge, he just couldn't make it. He left in January, and on the advice of his doctor, has applied for disability pay and early retirement.
"I just knew that I would break if I continued," he said sadly, "but you can't imagine how much this bothers me. That was my life. I can't see going back, but I can't go on like this either."
That Miller did his job well is not disputed by either of his former principals.
"The very thing the students need is often the so-called 'old-fashioned' teacher," said Bob Mullis, prinicpal of Northwood. "And these are the very teachers who often encounter more frustrations. Ten or 15 years ago, their values were more acceptable.
"Now, they have to fight conflicting values and standards, and that makes it more difficult . . . I never like to see anyone leave the profession in an unsatisfactory manner -- we need every good, competent, committed teacher that we can find. But if a teacher is not successful, if he or she doesn't feel successful then perhaps it's for the best. . ."
"He was a fine teacher," said Thomas Marshall, principal of Springbrook. "I know he hated to leave, and I hated to let him go."
There was anger in the voice of Miller's wife Joan as she said, "I just wish this wasn't happening. There's no way either one of us can see him returning to that situation, but he's just too much of a worker to sit around the home. Forrest is an inveterate teacher, and it's very painful for me to see him unable to teach. He was such a fine teacher."
With a shake of his head, Miller ponders the question: What now?
"It's my biggest problem," he sys slowly. "I looked into a possible sales job, and I've thought about driving a truck. I was even offered a part-time job at a bowling alley. I just don't know."
What Forrest Miller does know is that phsycially and emotionally, he is no longer equipped to teach. He spends his days reading, writing, jogging and looking for a way out of his dilemma.
"I do tend to go a little stir-crazy here," said the man who once used a National Science Foundation grant to pursue a second master's degree. "I guess you could say that this is not the most productive life. . ."