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The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

Catching Up with Ketchum

Catching Up with Ketchum
Paelun Bissonnette

This year marks the second year of the Media Technology & Filmmaking class, and the second year of Michael Ketchum’s career as a teacher. Looking back at both his career and his tenure at MIHS, Ketchum has learned a lot.

Ketchum’s casual presentation, raspy voice and calm demeanor make him immediately stand out as a teacher. In addition, he has a wide range of experience at different companies, giving him a unique wealth of knowledge to draw from.

“I teach Media Technology & Filmmaking, Robotics and Material Sciences at MIHS,” Ketchum said. “I also have my own company and do a lot of video and movie stuff for corporate clients like Toyota, [the] American Heart Association and things like that.”

While Ketchum had always had an interest in teaching, after his time in college, he decided on something else. “I wanted to see the world.” Ketchum said. “I joined the Navy’s Nuclear Program and went to a really hard six-month nuclear engineering school in Orlando. Then I reported aboard the USS Enterprise—not the starship, but the aircraft carrier. I went on three deployments, seeing countries all around the globe.” 

From there, he returned to the United States in order to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. “[After I] got out of the Navy, [I] went back to school to teach.” Ketchum said. “But my part time job as a bartender blossomed into me managing and then buying a restaurant franchise. I eventually landed in project management. I got hired by [a company named] Allrecipes and a year into it the president of the company came to me saying, ‘We need video.’ So I jumped headfirst into video, taught myself everything. By the time I left the company, we had done about 6,000 recipe videos, some award-winning shows. Video was kind of an accident.” 

After that, he decided to continue pursuing video, even producing one series that was nominated for an Emmy. Eventually he decided to start his own company. “It’s called Whulj, which is the Salish name for Puget Sound,” Ketchum said. “I was having fun making video so I decided to start a company with one of my friends from the business. We make commercials, sizzle reels and mini documentaries for a number of different corporate clients.”

Eventually, he had an opportunity to return to his dream of teaching. “I wanted to teach—God, it was like 20, 30 years ago.” Ketchum said. “I was going back to school to teach but then another opportunity came along and I kind of jumped headlong into that, and [now] it’s kind of [come around] full circle. 20-plus years later, I ended up having the opportunity to go and film the Rose Parade with the MIHS Band, and that started greasing the skids and provided [me] the opportunity to come back and teach about three years later.” 

Although an expert at his craft, Ketchum initially experienced difficulty transmitting his know-how to young students. “I felt confident going in; I’d been producing videos and movies and things like that for 15 years,” Ketchum said, laughing. “I wasn’t prepared at all. Having knowledge of something doesn’t mean that you’re prepared to teach it.”

Finding ways to bridge the gap between his knowledge and that of his students was a key mission of Ketchum’s. “Making sure that you have good materials in place is super important, because I can put stuff up on the screen that I know, but it’s like, how do I actually work with kids and meet them where they are?” Ketchum said. 

But even with the right materials, Ketchum had to learn how to present them to a new audience. “You know, in the job force, you hire the people that meet the qualifications you want,” Ketchum said. “In teaching, it’s more like, ‘Here’s the people who signed up for the class,’ and then you have to try and be able to effectively teach from every end of that, from the quick learners to the slower learners, from the enthusiastic learners to the ones you need to try a little harder to coax some of that enthusiasm out of.” 

Despite his initial difficulties, Ketchum persisted, trying to fulfill his lifelong dream. “I always wanted to teach, because I look back and I realize I just had some incredible teachers,” Ketchum said. “I mean, I grew up in rural Colorado and there was Mr. Connors, my math and computer sciences teacher, and he would just jump up on the table he was so passionate about teaching. I knew someday I wanted to do something like that and I wanted to make it as fun for kids as it had been for me. I know that’s a cliche reason, but that’s really it.”

Throughout his life, Ketchum has tried to adhere to his personal philosophy. “Really it boils down to a quote by Jack Keruoac: ‘Live, travel, adventure, bless and don’t be sorry,’” Ketchum said. “So when I teach, I try to remember that I’ve gone to a lot of different places throughout my career, it wasn’t just a straight path to where I am now. The important thing [for kids] is to find your passion, but to know that when you leave here as a senior, your passions are going to change.”

To Ketchum, teaching is less about memorization and more about character. “So my philosophy of teaching is basically to teach kids the general skills that they can apply across the board, not just the buttons to push or levers to pull,” Ketchum said. “Because they’ll learn that kind of stuff [on the job] and the tools will probably change over time. [The primary editing software] used to be Final Cut, now it’s Adobe Premiere, it’s becoming DaVinci Resolve, those tools change. But the more intangible things like leadership and character and compassion and kindness, if you can weave those in with the hard skills you’re teaching, you can leave them with something really meaningful.”

As he grows older, Ketchum looks back proudly at his life and hopes he can make an impact on students’ lives as a teacher. “I would like my final hurrah to be teaching,” Ketchum said. “I’m becoming an empty nester here soon; I’ve got one child left at home, two more years. And so, it’s kind of a grand way, I think, to go out,” Ketchum began before pausing with a laugh and adding, “I’m not dying, by the way.”

With a smile, he stopped to gather himself before continuing, “I just think it’s a grand way to go out. I kind of get to have a big new family and a group of kids that I can help influence and pass on my love of learning and living to. I think I’d like to retire as a teacher. So, if I can do this as my final gig, I think that would be a lot of fun.”

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    BarryNov 30, 2023 at 11:33 pm

    Well-crafted article!