By Julie Ann Madden

Posted April 16, 2020 at 7:30 pm

j A-W Mike Baker teaching math.tif

It’s just not one teacher who deserves the “Unsung Hero” honor during this Coronavirus pandemic, according to Akron-Westfield High School math teacher Mike Baker.

“I’m not comfortable with that moniker at all,” he told The Akron Hometowner.

“I really truly care about the people I work with,” said Baker. “I really truly care about the kids I teach.”

“I don’t ever want to take lightly my job for the community,” he said. “We’re given hurdles in our lives all the time that we have to deal with and so what do we need to do to continue the job the best way we can? Not having contact with your students or fellow staff, it’s very, very hard so how can we make the best out of this situation?”

“Being in this community has made this a little bit easier because the community is just full of caring people,” said Baker, who participated in a recent Parade of Waves. “I couldn’t believe the turnout and that’s a testimonial to the kind of community we live in. It was just an awesome deal.”

“When you’re part of a group like that, you want to do all you can to make the group strong and keep the group strong,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing.”

Baker, along with other Akron-Westfield teachers, are still teaching their students — just in a different way.

According to Baker, many A-W teachers never stopped teaching after Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds ordered schools closed.

As an example, while teachers were still allowed in their classrooms, Baker brought home everything he’d need to teach his students “online.”

He’s created a temporary classroom in his home with his iPad and small dry erase boards creating videos and Google documents for his students to continue learning mathematics.

Baker uses the “Flipping the Classroom” process where he creates a video 10 to 15 minutes in length presenting the lesson as homework, then in class the students get their questions answered and begin working on assignments — the same as they did in his school classroom.

Baker creates two or three videos per week for his classes: Precalculus, Math Analysis, Geometry and Eighth Grade Math.

“The problem is all of my seniors and most of my juniors have access to the internet at home,” said Baker. “That’s an awesome thing.”

But with the sophomores, there are “double-digit” numbers of students who either do not have cell phone service at home or have very poor cell phone service at home, he said. With his eighth grade students, it’s more than half who do not have the service.

The advantage to the video lessons is students can pause the video to take notes and re-listen any time they want, said Baker.

“I tell ‘my’ kids it’s important during the week to have a productive routine where you’re doing school work,” he explained. “It doesn’t have to be for a long time. I know it’s not going to be graded so you may feel you don’t have to do it but there are some things you really need to do for us for next year. Do it in a routine.”

“My very strong request is that they have to have contact with me at least once a week,” said Baker, who starts his days with a cup of coffee and checking for students’ emails. “I’ve had a lot of responses from my students.”

“I want to know how well they can hear the videos, how helpful the sample problems on the video were, how difficult the assigned problems were, how they did the work — not just the answers but how their work compared to mine,” he said, noting he is keeping track of all the students who respond and has even had a few parents respond. “I just want to know through the course of this (pandemic) that I have my kids doing something.”

As a sponsor of the National Honor Society students, Baker and fellow sponsor, Colleen Westergard, are keeping in touch with these students to make sure they are fulfilling their Community Service requirements.

Each honoree must create their own Community Service project in addition to the ones the teachers set up.

For instance, the honorees are not allowed to go to the Akron Care Center or Ridgewood Apartments at this time. Therefore, one honoree’s project is writing letters to the Ridgewood Apartments’ residents.

The sponsors are considering conducting Zoom meetings since they can’t meet in person with these students.

“We (teachers) are trying to do as much as we can,” said Baker. “I appreciate you (asking me about Unsung Heroes) but at Akron-Westfield not only is it an expectation from the administration that we do things, a lot of staff I’ve been talking to have been doing things before it was a directive.”

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