Kevin Kowalski & Michael Millam | Episode 247
Michael Millam was born and raised in Southern, California and graduated high school in 1999. Michael attended California State University Fullerton, earning a BA in art education in 2006. He then spent his first 6 years teaching traditional black and white and digital photography at Kennedy High School. In 2012 Michael moved to Western High School to teach ceramics. In June of 2015 Michael completed a Masters in Art Education from Boston University. Michael was a presenter at NAEA convention and spoke on the subject of high school students using ceramics to communicate identity. Michael also participated on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and the Evaluation Systems group of Pearson and served on the California Teaching Performance Assessment (CalTPA) Art Content Expert Panel.
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What do you do to inspire your students?
Michael: For me I find that really loving the subject is the biggest thing because students you know, they are teenagers, they know when you are trying to be fake and you are just trying to get them to do the work vs your passion about it and something you love. They see me doing it all the time and that keeps them motivated.
Kevin: That’s a great answer. I would say also exposing them to lots of different techniques. Because each kid is going to connect with something different. I give my students the option to either hand build or be on the wheel. At one point they have to be on the wheel and they have to hand build but I had that option in my high school experience so I like to give them that experience. So just giving them lots of options inspires them.
What do you do to help students that struggle?
Kevin: So connecting with them on a personal level and taking them out of the pottery element. So say a kid is not doing well on the wheel and they are frustrated, you change the subject and you ask them about their personal life or something about what sports they play, if they have a job and you just connect with them. It lowers their anxiety and also it’s ok to struggle in my class. I tell them I want them to fail at pottery at the beginning because that only teaches you how to succeed later. So connecting with them and saying it’s ok to fail because I still do the same thing.
Michael: I would say the same thing goes for me. Failure is part of the learning process. I explain to them that you are going to learn more from failing than you are from doing the same thing you know how to do over and over again. So I want you to fail and try that difficult thing. Most of the time they surprise themselves and do some thing really awesome.
How do you measure academic progress?
Michael: That is one of the biggest struggles for me as a teacher. How do you measure everyone and everyone is different? I try to explain to them that some kids are just good at art and they are going to make some thing really cool but that doesn’t mean they are learning anything if they don’t progress and I don’t see them progressing. They are not going to get as good as a grade as someone who is struggling and trying their hardest. It may not look as good but you can tell they are really learning something from it because they are trying their hardest. I try to measure it individually as much as possible.
Kevin: Yes, each student is individual so you have to grade them according to that. One new thing I want to try out is having them document their own work maybe using social media or just the camera on their phone. I think it is good for them to see where they have come from and how far they are getting so they can be encouraged. It is also good documentation for me so I can see their progress.
Website mentioned in discussion for documenting students’ artwork: Artsonia
How is education changing?
Michael: I think it is very different and it’s becoming more hands on. We have to make education relate to the students’ lives. It’s that question we all ask when you are sitting in class and you are bored: Why do I have to learn this? We have to find meaningful ways to help students learn. For me it’s more than just teaching them about art and how to be an artist, but they are learning how to be creative and how to collaborate with other people and how to think critically. Those are all skills that are very valuable.
Kevin: Education is changing because you can get similar education online. You can go to YouTube and find out how to do this type of technique or solve this problem. But I think teachers have the challenge to connect with students and give them maybe more real-world application. I tell my students the lessons you learn in this class I want you to be able to relate it to other areas of your life. They are going to need the perseverance that it took to make a cylinder in other areas later in life. Having that as part of their education is way more important than just learning pottery.
How do you want your students to describe you?
Michael: I would say passionate and caring, creative and energetic.
Kevin: Probably patient and caring. Those are really important traits I hopefully am portraying.