Life has been anything but easy for Tai-Tyana Miller. The 27-year-old lifelong resident of Detroit and mother of three is a perfect example of what perseverance looks like. She’s learned through many trials and tribulations that when life knocks you down, you can pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and do great things with your life.
The first big blow for Miller came in 2007 when her family’s home was destroyed by a house fire that left her mother severely burned and fighting for her life in a medically induced coma. Miraculously, her mother survived, and no one else in the family was badly injured. But with their home in ashes, Miller was forced to move in with her grandmother and change schools. The combination of changing schools and dealing with her mother’s extended hospital stay and long recovery was a lot for the eleven-year-old to process.
These events, along with being bullied in school led Miller down a bumpy road. She admits she was a troubled child who stopped caring about her education. She was struggling in school and wholeheartedly believed her teachers didn’t care about her well-being. All but one, that is. Her history teacher, Mr. Plonka, took her under his wing and guided her through middle school, where she became a 4.0 student. Miller credits Plonka for helping to get her get her grades back on track and for saving her life.
“I was severely depressed and if he hadn’t been there to guide me and show me the love I desperately needed, I would have never gotten my act together and I would not be here today,” said Miller.
Just when it seemed like things were finally looking up, the transition from middle school to high school sent her life into a tailspin once again. In moving from one building to another, she not only lost Mr. Plonka’s guidance, but she also lost her way.
At 15 years old she found herself pregnant and homeless. Soon after, she dropped out of school. She took care of her daughter, Passion, by day and worked odd jobs at night to pay the bills.
At 18 she welcomed her second child, Will Jr. Money was tight and she found herself once again struggling with numerous personal issues.
Then came the year 2020, a year that was hard on everyone, especially children, and the Miller household was no exception. Seven-year-old Passion and four-year-old Will Jr. became discouraged about school, so much so that Miller decided to do something drastic to help encourage and inspire her young children.
“I figured if I made a positive change in my life, it would help my kids find joy in school again,” said Miller. “So, I took the GED exam and passed!”
The year that followed was full of new beginnings. She learned she was pregnant with her third child, Domonic’KiRee, she began working at Chrysler, and she moved her family into a new apartment.
The real turning point for Miller came when she reconnected with her mentor, Mr. Plonka.
“He encouraged me to further my career and helped me realize that being an educator was my calling and that my community needed me!”
Miller says she wanted to go back to school for many reasons, but stability for her children was at the top of that list.
“I would love to break the curse of generational poverty and want my children to live comfortably, not just survive,” said Miller. “I also want to show my children that they were not mistakes and that they didn’t stop me from accomplishing my dreams. I want to show my babies that they are my motivation and not my downfall!”
When it came time to pick a career field, Miller didn’t even think twice. She knew she wanted to follow in Mr. Plonka’s footsteps and go into education, so she could have the opportunity to save a troubled teen, as Mr. Plonka once saved her.
“I’d like to work with middle or high school students because that’s where the extra TLC is needed to help prepare youth for the real world,” she said.
Once Miller found Davenport’s urban education STEM program, she knew she had found her path.
“Davenport was the only school I could find in Michigan with a program that focuses on urban students and multicultural education,” said Miller.
She began taking classes at Davenport in 2022 as a global student and is working towards a secondary education degree with a math concentration.
“I have learned so many things at Davenport, especially about inclusion and providing equitable education opportunities to our students,” said Miller. “I can also say that I’ve been able to overcome almost every barrier I started college with, and it’s only my second year at Davenport!”
Meaghan Polega, Davenport’s associate CUE department chair, can attest to how far Miller has come. She first met Miller when she enrolled in one of her classes. Miller’s passion for education and the determination to create a better life for herself and her family made an immediate impression.
“Tai-Tyana is someone I want to teach my kids, which is the most powerful accolade I can give” said Polega. “She is not only fierce and tenacious, but she also strives to be her very best, no matter what obstacles are thrown in her way.”
Polega recalls a time when Miller was working long hours on the assembly line at Chrysler, which made it difficult for her to attend class. She often found herself working mandatory overtime or 10-hour shifts, seven days straight. She couldn’t afford to take time off work to go to class, so she had to improvise.
“My entire first semester of college I attended class on my phone while working on the assembly line. I’d listen through headphones and take part in class discussions when I could,” said Miller. “It was incredibly hard, but I was so eager to succeed!”
Despite everything, Miller says her first year at Davenport was a success and she owes it all to Polega. “If it weren’t for her constant encouragement and flexibility to attend class in such a unique way, I honestly would have dropped out,” said Miller.
In addition to being a full-time mom and college student, Miller is also working as a paraprofessional for Chandler Park Elementary in Detroit where she is gaining valuable knowledge that she’s eager to pass on to her future students. “I’m co-teaching and creating lesson plans, and I just love it!”
Once Miller earns her degree, she hopes to jump right into leading a classroom of her own.
Miller says her grit and determination come from her kids. “I just want the best for them and I want to prove to them that anything is possible!”
For more information about the College of Urban Education, visit https://www.davenport.edu/academics/areas/urban-education