In early 2016, a teacher emailed me, looking for someone to conduct a week-long writing workshop for the all the third-graders in his school. We set up a phone interview, had a fruitful conversation, and before I knew it, Mr. Baker was referring to when my visits would occur. Not if.
I couldn’t believe it! He was affording me the chance to do for children what my fourth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Agnes, had done for me – foster a love a writing, grounded in the ability to see myself as a writer. But I’m not a teacher, so how could I do that? Self-doubt threatened, but I carried on, spending the next few months developing my workshop. If Mr. Baker believed in me, I had to believe in myself. (But wait. He doesn’t really know me, does he?)
The night before my first day, I couldn’t sleep. That morning, I couldn’t eat. I arrived, and Mr. Baker met me in the office. As frightened as I felt, he looked equally enthusiastic. He introduced me to the students and walked to the back of the room. My heart pounded. What if my lesson didn’t meet his expectations? Why didn’t he hire someone with more experience? What if I’m not worthy? It then dawned on me that what mattered was that the teacher in the back of the room believed in me. As he facilitated on that first day, I noted how he interacted with the students. I could see that he had the same “belief effect” on them.
Mr. Baker fostered joy and love in his classroom, and it was infectious. I wanted to ride that wave through my own interactions with the students. He served as the perfect mentor. As I returned to the school day after day, I seized the chance to connect with students in a way I had never been able to, through more traditional, shorter, 1-day author visits. Over the 5 days of working with Mr. Baker, the other teachers, and the students, I was able to build trust and rapport. The children looked to me for validation, just as I had looked to Sister Mary Agnes for my own, more than 40 years prior.
Mr. Baker invited me back the next three years. And I was supposed to return in 2020, but we all know what happened in 2020. And in 2021.
A few months ago, when I opened an email from another teacher at the school, I was thrilled to be invited again but wondered why it was not Mr. Baker who was contacting me. I read on, stopping in my tracks. Sadly, Mr. Baker had been killed in a tragic car accident. Grief consumed me, as I thought of the world, his world, without him. He has left a void at his school and in his community. And, of course, with his family.
But his impact and legacy live on in each student he taught. In every colleague with whom he connected. I’m honored to say I was both. He served as a role model for me on how to share a passion and love with children, by simply being myself.
He is, and will forever be, missed, but this May and June he will be there with me, as I help children see themselves as writers. Thank you, Mr. Baker.