Educator Spotlight: Jake Miller
Tech advocate in Ohio relies on new tools to reach solutions in the classroom
This story is part of a weekly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
Among many things, teachers are problem solvers.
They plan out curriculum to create order and expectation. They organize their days and their weeks to determine peace. They arrive in the middle of a hallway scuffle not to belabor the drama but to ask questions and move on. Every day, they prep calendars for ease, compare notes for efficiency, read books for preparedness. And, amid remote learning, they breathe through the angst, open their weary eyes and log on to yet another webinar that will guide them toward a way to solve the day.
Teachers are determined, too.
For Jake Miller, a bright and bubbly tech integration specialist and middle school math and science teacher near Cleveland, Ohio, he finds resolution in technology. In fact, he’s giddy about it.
Realizing early on that digital tools empowered him to simply try new things and see what happens, he’s since said a big and joyful YES to apps, gifs, social media, websites, podcasts and any opportunity to hop on stage and declare what he knows to be true: Answers can be found beyond the textbook.
After nearly 20 years of teaching, Jake is just getting started, and it’s because he trusts the ever-evolving world of tech to lead both him, his fellow teachers and his students toward solutions or mighty goals they’ve likely been striving toward for a long time.
“Over the last five months, I’ve sat in this chair and talked to so many people through this camera,” Jake says over a Teams call while his father-in-law mowed the lawn in the background. His shiny podcast mic was front and center, he faced the light just right and baseball bobbleheads sat proudly on Ikea shelves behind him. Jake is the tech guy that makes remote work life look doable and dreamy.
“And every time I talk to people,” he continues, “I look at them as if they are right there next to me and I say to them, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing. Your students right now are in a swimming pool or swinging in their backyard or still sleeping or playing on their Nintendo Switch or binging again on Netflix, but you are working your tail off to get better for your kids,’ and I am so proud of them for that.
“Our teachers right now are identifying a need, then identifying a tool to solve that need, and then putting in the work to learn it. They are taking a risk to try something new, and that’s a huge risk a lot of educators are super intimidated by! But they are doing it for the kids. There is so much on our plates right now, but we want to make this work for our students, so that is our priority.”
Solutions Found in the Fun
Jake has been producing his own podcast, “Educational Duct Tape,” for well over a year now. He chats with teachers, laughs at his jokes, and makes professional development feel very cool. In these conversations, he simply encourages teachers to think about their goals, and then he talks through tech tools that might help them get there.
“Teachers are overwhelmed by educational technology, so if I can learn as much as possible for them, break it down and simplify it all, then I feel like I’m helping them,” says Jake, who also leaves room in his episodes for stories about driving around in a monster truck listening to Mariah Carey. It’s a jubilant, amusing place to tune in. “I’m also just a nerd for this education stuff. I wake up, look at my phone to see what’s new in educational technology, then before bed, I do the same thing, too. I’m probably having Flipgrid dreams!”
But this reverence means he can be trusted as highly as he trusts the tech himself.
“As much as I love being in the classroom, my favorite place to be is in front of a group of teachers,” Jake says. “A teacher will always say, ‘I love when I see that aha moment from my kids,’ but, for me, I love when I see that aha moment from teachers. I love that energy in the room, and I love supporting them.”
Jake is the middle-school teacher who isn’t afraid to be goofy with his kids, but he’s not afraid to have fun with his colleagues, too, and perhaps it’s because he sees in them the answer to education everywhere: An ever-lasting endurance.
“I hear a lot of things like, ‘Remote learning has been tough and isn’t up to where we expect it to be,’ ” Jake says. “But that really takes away from how hard our educators have worked. I think an accurate assessment is, ‘Look at this impressive growth!’ We’ve got teachers who did nothing with technology to now finding ways to talk asynchronously with their kids every day. If we can keep that mindset, things are just going to be just great for education in the future.”