Hot Takes: Mr. Miller
By Miriam Spak (Freshman)
For many students, advanced mathematics is associated with hard tests and long nights of homework. Most of us question the practicality of these difficult-to-grasp concepts. What are the rewards and real-life implications of learning math? To find this out, we interviewed Mr. Miller, who teaches Algebra II, Precalculus, Calculus, and Calculus II. We asked questions about his career, Obama Academy, and cryptocurrencies.
Mr. Miller formerly taught at both Schenley and Frick. He began teaching at Obama when the school was established in 2009. Mr. Miller experienced the transition between schools as well as a shift in the approach to the IB program. He observed that “at Schenley, [IB] was restricted to people who were really interested in it…The good teachers, the good programs [were] just made…more accessible to everyone [at Obama].”
Because Mr. Miller has witnessed every version of our school, we wanted to hear the best and worst parts of Obama’s culture from his perspective. In his opinion, the best part is the set of “really high expectations for everybody that comes here.” He is heartened by the fact that students are expected to attend college, and how “everyone is willing to rise to that challenge.” He described a “sense of greatness” that is tangible at Obama. Conversely, the negative side of Obama is when “other things are prioritized over the classroom,” he said. Class should be a “sacred space… [and] sacred time,” he believes, but frequent interruptions- whether in-school or external- “are some of the detrimental parts of [the school’s] culture” that he sees.
When asked what the biggest challenge of teaching higher level math is, Mr. Miller answered, “[making] math accessible to everyone…there’s always this gatekeeping that happens in math.” He also described how math is made out to be really difficult to most people. Students become overwhelmed and unmotivated, which alienates them from a subject they might’ve loved.
Mr. Miller also thinks it is important for students to learn about personal finance because, “lots of people are financially illiterate…In advanced math, we take for granted that people can just figure [their finances] out.” His view is that students need to care about the economy, because “it is going to affect them the rest of their [lives].”
With cryptocurrency on the rise and money radically changing by the day, Mr. Miller thinks “we’re on the cusp of a real dynamic change in how society works.” When asked about his opinions on a current hot-button topic, NFTs, he responded, “I don’t understand [them]! [They] don’t make sense to me.” He remarked on how money is “perceived value,” and how the only reason that a material like gold is worth so much is because we’ve given value to it. Whether it’s a brand-new car, an apartment in the Metaverse, or a set of baseball cards, these purportedly high-end items are only expensive because we as a society have decided they are, he explained. Things that seem silly to one person, “might have value to somebody else.” Our society is beginning to value different things (such as NFTs). “I could be wrong, but I think that’s where… we are; things are changing.”
Mr. Miller’s take on math is obvious: it’s the best subject. However, it wasn’t always his main focus; when he was younger, it was the subject he “had to work the hardest in,” he said. In college, he enjoyed math classes and how problems “felt like puzzles.” This led to him becoming a math teacher. “Math isn’t really hard, it just takes work,” he said. To him, understanding concepts quickly isn’t the biggest part of succeeding in math, or even a sign of intelligence. He believes “the best mathematicians…[are] the people who are willing to keep working.” As a teacher, he doesn’t try to seem cool or relatable to his students, but instead leans into the cheesy-dad-joke mentality. When it comes to learning math and complicated ideas, he wants students to remember this: “Don’t panic, you’re smarter than you think you are, and you can do it.”