Mike Flower | Episode 283
Mike Flower is a potter and teacher in Los Angeles, CA. Primarily an educator, his days are largely spent running a thriving high school studio that sees 200 students daily. He also serves as an Adjunct Faculty member at Cal State University, Dominguez Hills. His ceramic work is mostly utilitarian.
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You have a lot of students who go in and out of your classroom. For some of them you have been a hero. Who was your hero?
There are quite a few ceramic artists that I am really enjoying paying attention to. I think one of the first people I cam across that really shook my world was Paul Soldner. I went to a Soldner workshop 14 or 15 years ago and it was just like, Wow! This is some great stuff happening here. At the time Paul was getting up there in years and he great and really very inspirational. In another workshop I met Steve Branfman and I liked what Steve was doing because he was a high school teacher and he was also an artist. He was also and author and he was also conducting workshops. So you do come across people who inspire you.
What motivates you to work really hard?
You now, for every hundred mugs you make one that you just go, Yeah, this is why I do this! The glaze melted right and the way the light catches it properly. You make something and there is a very selfish and intrinsic reward about making something that you enjoy. Sometimes it’s just a really good mug and other times it’s a three-foot tall vase. For me I guess it’s just all about being an object maker. I really like making objects.
What is your favorite thing about being a teacher and your interaction with the students?
Especially with high schoolers, there are moments, they look like they are grown-ups but every once in a while they pick up something that just came out of the kiln and there is this giddy, child-like smile on their face and they can’t hide it. Some of them are only 2 or 3 years removed from being a little kid, and when the little kid creeps through you see this joy , it breaks the shell of being the cool teenager. That is a pretty awesome moment. Then you also have kids at the end of the year they write in your yearbook and they say, Your class was one of the only reason I came to school, Thank you. That is pretty mind-blowing when you create a connection with a student like that.
You work with 200 students a day. Is there a story of a student who was hurting at home and you were able to be inspirational to them?
I think it is something a lot of teachers struggle with because we want to be here for our students and say, The moment you walk into my class I care about you. occasionally a student will say, I am having a really hard time right now, bare with me. I will say Okay, I understand that. I have had quite a few students who have had parents that are dealing with cancer, fighting cancer, and we get an email from a parent or counselor that tells me about their situation. You really think about, What can I do to support this student? Sometimes it’s like, Hey listen, I don’t care how you do on this project, I know you are having a hard time. Just get something done, if it doesn’t look the way that you want, don’t worry I’m going to grade you a little bit soften this week because I know what’s going on. Maybe that is more important than a handle on a mug right now.
When it’s all said and done, how do you want your students to describe you?
I don’t know if I have ever thought about that. I would like for them to know that I cared about them. I would like for them to say, Gosh Mr. Flowers always seemed like he was in a good mood. To a large degree, I try to behave that way. I want to create a positive atmosphere and for them to know that I really enjoy what I do.