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Henrico’s Top Teachers – Andrew Baker

Glen Allen H.S., social studies
When Andrew Baker got married a year ago, he and his wife were showered with lavish gifts from their large Greek families. But it was a wedding gift from a student that won a place of honor in Baker’s home.

A transfer from South Korea, the student rarely spoke in class, and although Baker did all he could to make her comfortable, he says he was never sure if she liked school or his class because she was so quiet.

“My wedding was over winter break,” he recalls, “and when I came back I was met with an amazing note and two wooden duck figures on my desk.”

The note revealed that Baker had had a tremendous impact on his Korean student, who admitted that she was quiet only because she was embarrassed about her accent. Baker learned from the note not only that she liked history, but that she appreciated (as he put it) “my horrible attempts at learning some Korean language and trying to make her feel welcome.”

The ducks were from Korea, she told Baker, where they are traditional gifts given to a bride and groom for good luck.

“I don’t imagine,” says Baker, “those two ducks leaving their spot on my dresser for as long as I live.”

Another student – one of several who wrote to nominate Baker as a top teacher – said that Baker excels at making all students feel welcome and cared for, no matter what their differences. As a high school freshman, the student wrote, Baker “made me feel accepted, because he talked about how everyone is equal and that nobody should act better than anybody else.”

A parent nominator also praised Baker’s “compassionate” way of teaching and of making each student feel important.

“I have a ‘C’ student who is excelling in his class,” wrote the parent. “My daughter is willing to study harder for this class [and participate] to make a better grade. This is something she has never done before.”

Students say that Baker keeps them engaged by planning fun activities, making students act out skits that help the material “stick,” and using analogies and examples that teens can relate to and understand.

For example, Baker described Louis XIV to his students as “that person you all know that always has the right outfit and can start trends easily,” said one student. “He once told us,” said another, “that World War I was boy fighting and the Cold War was [like high school] girl fighting.”

Baker credits a number of educators with cultivating his drive to become a teacher, including professors at Hampden-Sydney College and his “incredible” teachers at Godwin High School (where he was close to then-principal John McGinty).

“After such a great career as a student, I don’t know how I could have contained the desire to pass that love of learning on to others,” says Baker. 

From as far back as he can remember, says Baker, he has been an enthusiastic learner. The drive to share what he learns frequently prompts Baker, as a world history and psychology teacher, to push his students beyond the bounds of curriculum and broaden their understanding of other cultures. 

“Most high school students in America,” he says, “have a fairly narrow view of how people live worldwide.  Challenging this idea isn’t easy when confined by the four walls of the classroom.  I try to incorporate digital learning and online exploration . . . to show students scenes of everyday life in other countries, so that their worldview really grows while taking my class.”

Despite having rough days now and then, Baker calls being a teacher the best job he can imagine. “We are given a chance to be as creative as we want, interact with future generations and hopefully leave some sort of intellectual legacy that will make the community a better place.”

“The best part,” he adds, “is even if a year doesn’t go well, you get to hit the reset button each September and start fresh.”  

More than one member of those “future generations” wrote to attest that Baker has left his mark on their lives. One student nominator, in fact, said that taking Baker’s world history class completely turned her life around.

“[Before joining his class],” the student wrote, “I did not like history, or school for that matter, and I wasn’t a very moralistic kid. I was kind of a punk. But after going through Mr. Baker’s class, I realized how important (and cool) knowledge is. I love to read and learn now.”

Admitting that she had often cheated on her homework in other classes (“and did not think twice about it because ‘everyone was doing it’”), the student changed her ways after Baker helped her become passionate about learning and see the value in challenging herself.

It was because of Baker, she wrote, that she not only stopped cheating, but stopped using drugs and drinking. She acquired an interest in Russia, began teaching herself the language and began dreaming of traveling the world.

“He made us laugh, and think, and love to learn,” she said of Baker. “He was an incredible role model.

“Because of this man, I want to become a world history teacher . . . I want to do for other kids what he has done for me.”
Community

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Film industry training program planned for this weekend

The Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA), in partnership with the Virginia Film Office, will offer "Get Your Start in the Film Industry," a two-day seminar designed to prepare workers for film, television and commercial projects in Virginia. The course will be held Oct. 4-5 at the Workforce Development and Conference Center, 1651 Parham Road in Henrico, on the campus of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.

The training will be taught by Gary Romolo Fiorelli, an accomplished assistant director for film and television projects, which include the television series Sons of Anarchy and ABC’s current drama Mistresses. > Read more.

The Boathouse to open at Short Pump Town Center

The Boathouse restaurant will open at Short Pump Town Center in the spring, its third location in the region.

“People have asked us to come to the West End for years,” said owner Kevin Healy. “When the opportunity arose, we knew had to jump on it.”

The new restaurant will be located in a 5,800-square-foot space under the Hyatt House Hotel at the town center and will include a large outdoor patio. > Read more.

Getting a ‘mouf’-ful

Boka Kantina exceeds its strong food truck reputation
Already a fan of Boka fare from outdoor events with the Tako Truck, I was delighted to learn of the new restaurant, and eager to see if its reputation held up after putting down brick-and-mortar roots.

Would the food lose its zest if I wasn’t enjoying it in the great outdoors? Would it seem pedestrian served from an ordinary kitchen instead of a truck?

Would the tacos be less satisfying as an antidote to normal lunch hunger – instead of being ingested to stave off desperate hunger after a long afternoon of crowds, sun, and tedious lines? > Read more.

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Henrico's Top Teachers