In today’s world of education, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s easy for teachers to get burned out on their duties as teachers. It takes a special kind of person to not only persevere, but to thrive in a teaching career. Max Miller, a Freshman and Senior English teacher at La Porte High School, is exactly that kind of person. An avid supporter of public school education, Miller started his career at LPHS 38 years ago and continues teaching the next generation of leaders in La Porte County. Not only that, but he’s also the Vice President of the La Porte Federation of Teachers, spreading his message of supporting public education there as well.
Miller, who lives in La Porte, was born into a military family in Florida and raised in Elkhart, Indiana. He attended Tri-State University, now called Trine University in Angola where he studied English education.
Directly out of college he began applying for jobs and began teaching shortly thereafter at La Porte High School, where he’s been ever since.
Miller’s passion for teaching extends deeply into the material he covers.
“I really enjoy, in terms of writing, I enjoy the craft of writing, and it’s taken me a long time to learn how to teach it, I think,” Miller explained. “As a skill, it’s just like everything else, be it a sports skill or music skill, you have to practice at it to get better at it. That’s the philosophy we take. I enjoy that.”
He also enjoys drawing parallels between the literature he’s teaching and the real world.
“When I’m able to teach literature, I enjoy being able to make connections between the literature and the real world,” said Miller. “I’m getting ready to do Fahrenheit 451 for the millionth time, and I just really have a passion for what Ray Bradbury did with that novel and predicting the effect of technology on society. So much of that has come true, it almost sends shivers up and down my spine when I teach that. So much of what he predicted in 1949, when he wrote that book, has come to fruition.”
Over his 38 years in teaching at La Porte High School, Miller has developed effective ways to get through to his students in what is often considered an extremely difficult job.
“If you say things the right way, and do certain things, they listen to you and give you their undivided attention,” said Miller. “The thing that I enjoy is that kids- at the time, they might not understand why it is you do some of the things you do. But, when they come back and talk to you, or drop you a note, or even something like [nominating for a Life in The Spotlight], that makes it all worthwhile, certainly.”
Miller’s teaching style also sets him apart from other teachers in that he lets the students work together and help each other to learn the material.
“There’s a certain amount of freedom in my room,” explained Miller. “I like to have students help other students. I talk sometimes about ‘doctors’ and ‘patients,’ and if you’re a ‘patient,’ you need to find yourself a ‘doctor.’ If you’re one of the ‘doctors,’ then see if you can find a ‘patient’ to help, and we help each other. It’s not about me, I don’t want it focused on me. We do small group things, and especially with writing, we try to help each other with editing and revising. We work it all together, it’s not about me standing up in front of the class all the time.”
Technology has also influenced Miller’s teaching style as well, allowing him to tie in related Youtube videos and other web resources to the material he’s teaching.
“It helps to bring some of those things to life when you put it up on a screen, rather than just reading it out of a book,” said Miller.
Miller’s many years of teaching have left a sizable population of current and former students that have been impacted by his tutelage. Living in La Porte affords Miller the opportunity to run into these students, be they from the past or present, out in the world and see the impact he makes on the community.
“As a teacher, obviously, you go to the bank or the grocery store and you see people, and they’ll come up and talk to you,” said Miller. “I enjoy that about living in a smaller town like La Porte. I wouldn’t have that if I lived somewhere else. Some teachers teach in one community and live in another, and there are probably some advantages to that, but I’ve come to enjoy going out and having people come up and say something to me. My wife and I will be out, and maybe a student I’ve had in class will say something to us. I really do enjoy after all these years those kinds of contacts.”
To Miller, teaching kids isn’t just about getting good grades, it’s about helping students truly learn. His 38 years at La Porte High School have allowed him to not just see how the world of education is evolving, but to develop effective teaching skills to provide students with the knowledge they need to be better people. In his own words, “If the only thing you’ve walked out of here with is a grade, then I haven’t done my job.”