NAMPA SCHOOL DISTRICT
Warmer days are ahead, and Jeff Miller can’t wait. Summer is his happy time when he can camp, fish, hike or boat.
Maybe that’s because Jeff grew up in the small town of Nikiski, Alaska, where he learned to treasure the fleeting warmer months and the freedom they provided for him to play sports and participate in all the other “outdoorsy” stuff he loves.
But he can definitely appreciate the non-summer months as well, when his classroom at West Middle School fills with students learning science, computers, and technology support.
“When you can relay your enthusiasm for a subject or an after-school event and kids pick up on it, that’s a good day,” he said. “That’s what teachers are teachers for.”
Jeff wears a lot of hats at West in addition to teaching, including that of athletic director and advisor to the Robotics program. And it’s those extra duties that keep him engaged and excited.
“I love interacting with the students outside of the classroom,” he said. “It’s a whole different group of kids after school – they’re doing what they want to be doing.”
Jeff has led robotics at West since the program started there seven years ago. He was teaching math at the time, and this presented an opportunity to add a fun, elective class.
That class evolved into multiple class periods and tournaments, including a chance this year to showcase a team of West Middle School eighth graders at both the National championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and the World championships in Dallas, Texas.
This year’s team competed under the moniker Till the End, a reference to their competition experience. “Their robot didn’t have a lot of flash and wasn’t seen as a great threat until the end, when they trumped everybody!” he said.
Jeff said robotics incorporates a lot of math and engineering and leads to a real growth mindset in participants. It also is the basis of a lot of evolving manufacturing jobs that require coding, automation or mechanical or structural engineering, making it a great motivator for students.
Jeff admits he could have used some of that career motivation himself as a student at Nikiski High. “I didn’t have a lot of career aspirations,” he admits. “I just wanted to play sports.
He came to Boise State University with a group of 15 Nikiski classmates thanks to the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program that promised cheap tuition. After taking some core classes, he eventually transferred to Northwest Nazarene University, where he earned a degree in pastoral ministries. “I had never dreamt of being a pastor, but it felt like what I needed to do,” he said.
After several years as a youth minister, he realized he wanted to do something more and earned his master’s in teaching at George Fox University. Although his path to teaching was indirect, he feels like it got him right where he needs to be.
Now in his 10th year of teaching, his enthusiasm for the job is matched only by his enthusiasm for shoes. Yes, shoes. Shelves mounted on his classroom wall show off his collection of 30 pairs of basketball shoes, and he has another 12 or so pairs of golf shoes at home. Channeling Mr. Rogers, he wears an old pair of “beater” shoes to work each day, and then selects a pair from the wall to change into.
“It started in high school when I wore Air Jordans while playing basketball,” he said. Now it’s become his signature schtick.
Outside of school, Jeff can usually be found tinkering around his house fixing something, out on the golf course (or ski slope in winter) or taking his ski boat out on Lake Lowell. If he opts for an evening of reading, it’s likely to be a Clive Cussler adventure-suspense novel (think James Bond, but underwater).
He also enjoys spending time with his two kids, 13-year-old Eli and 15-year-old Samuel, and girlfriend Kelli Baker.
During basketball season, he’ll be sporting Carolina Blue and rooting for the University of North Carolina Tarheels, whom he has followed since hearing them win the national championship over the radio while sitting in a parking lot in Anchorage. “That win solidified them as my team!” he recalls.
He hopes one day he’ll be remembered as someone who went above and beyond, always doing more than what needed to be done. Someone like Shaun Roberts, a recently retired West teacher and coach who served as Jeff’s mentor.
“We have a lot of similarities in desires and work ethics,” he said. “He is a mentor to me and is always willing to help and to teach. He’s a great dude.”