I’ve had the distinct honor and pleasure of teaching next door to Mr. Richard Baker, Rick to some, but Mr. Baker to most, for the last 15 years of his 38 years as a math educator here at Lin-Wood Public School. I’ve heard the clickety clack of his chalk on his chalkboard as he is passionate in illustrating numbers and equations and reasoning and notes on his board. His “old school” methodology parallels his smart board technology, and his students recognize, even while still in high school, how lucky they are to have had him as a teacher in this journey of academic life. Damn lucky.
Math has never been a favorite subject of mine, but I do love Mr. Baker. My own calculus teacher, Scott Herbert of Merrimack High School Math Teacher Fame, can testify that I should have stopped taking math after Trigonometry. I tell my students that the only reason I passed Calculus with a D is because I went in for extra help almost every day of my senior year and listened to Mr. Herbert teach and reteach and try to make sense of this foreign language. Mr. Baker is cut from a similar cloth, or lumberjack plaid as his case may be. When scheduling meetings with Mr. Baker, one sometimes has to look 2 or 3 weeks out as he literally has students EVERY day after school or a meeting for any multitude of different committees, groups, events he is instrumental in supporting.
Thousands of students and colleagues and parents can attest to how hard Mr. Baker has worked, probably his entire life as that is just who he is as a person, but certainly over the last 38 years as an educator. Graduating from Keene State College in December 1977, having completed his student teaching at Stevens High School in Claremont, NH, he must have had a sense that NO one could keep up with him. He jokes about almost missing his actual graduation day as was “on a multi-city, multi-baseball stadium car trip, as far west as Detroit, and got back two days before graduation. I didn’t make it to practice but got a reminder phone call to be at graduation that Saturday. Oh yeah, I thought, I’ve still got to graduate – had sort of forgotten about it in the middle of work then vacation time.” Seems hard for us to believe a younger version of Mr. B would have almost missed anything!
He has joked (or maybe he is serious– sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference with him) for three years now about the spreadsheet he began listing the different responsibilities he has maintained that no one else knows about. This is the stuff we will recognize beginning in August when he is home stacking wood for the winter, clearing brush in some family members’ yard, having fun with his wife, Colleen, volunteering for his church, or studying Italian for the big trip– everything we had no idea he took care of, until now, when he is not in his classroom following through on EVERYTHING and recognizing conflicts in schedules or items our brains had not conceived.
He has been the perfect teaching colleague and collaborator and neighbor in every way. I can’t even think of one annoying pet peeve he demonstrated over our 15 years sharing a wall, well, other than him setting the bar impossibly high for the rest of us to aspire to be like when it comes to updating grades, staying organized, following up with students’ missing work. Rick had a system, one that worked for him and EVERY student who passed through his door who cared about getting through math even when it was hard. The only thing he couldn’t tolerate was a lack of effort.
His advice for students and future students:
“Take advantage of every opportunity you can that comes along your way. Never stop learning and always try your best; put forth your best efforts because you never know who is watching or when a particular skill will pay you big dividends down the road. Most people train in high school and college for a particular career path but few ever stick with it for life. You will eventually need your broad-based and diverse education as your life takes many different turns in years to come. I have been fortunate that my plans from middle school onward have basically held forth but that is not the norm for most people; be ready for change.”
“Focus on honing your craft in your first few years of teaching before adding many of other school-based activities, committees, etc. After you are truly use to the school routine, then get involved, be an integral part of faculty and student activities, strive to be a good leader and role model both for the students and also for your peers. And, be ready for change, it seems to come along faster and faster every few years, particularly as the profession is more and more politicized. Not that a particular change is always something you will agree with, but it is something that you will need to be adept at adapting into your teaching content, repertoire, or methodology if you want to survive in the profession.”
“Being able to get up later than 5:00 am if I really want to and feeling free to stay up late if the Red Sox are on the west coast or there is a good late-night movie on TV. Traveling – Italy; Coeur D’Alene; family in NH, MA, MI, VA; genealogy work and visits; part-time work when I want to (Census 2020, other); catching the hundreds of fish with my name on them – more, I’ve got a list that will take me a long time to work my way through and perhaps will take a few dollars more than I really want to part with when the time comes. As a retired friend at church put it, ‘I am still fully occupied now that I am retired, it just doesn’t take as much to keep me fully occupied.’ I suspect that I may find the same to be true down the road a bit.”
Beyond his one piece navy blue snowsuit, ability to saw logs and referee volleyball, apple juice boxes, Famous Amos chocolate chip cookie snacks, endless pens and pencils in his pockets, and unparalleled attention to detail, his students, and must do lists, we are really going to miss this beloved math teacher, Mr. Richard Baker. Thank you for your 38 years of service, and especially for the knowledge, experience, and compassion, you shared with all of us along the way.
This forever educator has requested that a portion of his retirement party fund go towards a scholarship for a deserving Lin-Wood senior. Should you like to make a donation to this scholarship honoring his name, please send a check to the Lin-Wood Education Association, with Mr. Baker’s name in the memo field, c/o Lin-Wood School, 72 Linwood Drive, Lincoln, NH 03251. Thank you!