By Gwen Rollings
“When your children were assigned to Barbara Baker’s kindergarten class, you felt like they won the golden ticket,” recalled fellow teacher and longtime friend Michelle Pena.
Another kindergarten teacher, Michele Collier, who taught alongside Baker for nine years, agrees.
“Everyone wants Mrs. Baker as their child’s kindergarten teacher,” Rebekah Tilson, Alafia Elementary School PTA president and parent of one of Baker’s students in 2016, believes. “Mrs. Baker was and still is one of those teachers every parent dream of having as a kindergarten teacher.”
After teaching kindergarten for 40 years, Baker will be erasing her blackboard at Alafia Elementary School for the last time at the end of this year as she retires. However, her influence on every child who ever entered her classroom will never be erased.
Teresa McGinnis, assistant principal at Alafia Elementary, has known Baker for 10 years.
“To Barbara, being a teacher was not a job but a ministry for children,” she said.
Collier recalled, “The moment you walk through her door, you feel loved and appreciated. Barbara’s classroom is a place of wonderment. She has a knack to help children learn in the most untraditional way that works like magic for a young child.”
One of Baker’s ‘magical’ yearly traditions is Mrs. Spider’s Tea Party. After preparing for days, Baker and parents turn the entire classroom into a decorated, spider-themed tea party. Then, early on the tea party day, Baker pretends to be ill and tells her students that her sister, Mrs. Spider, will fill in for her, and ‘Mrs. Spider’ returns in a spectacular outfit to host the tea party, read a book, offer snacks and tea and take a picture with each student.
Baker made every child feel special. Pena recalled when her son, Ryan, entered Baker’s classroom as a painfully shy, quiet kindergartner.
“Mrs. Baker insisted on giving Ryan the only speaking part in their play. I was so nervous for him, but she asked me to trust her that he could do it. There was a lot of stage fright, but he did it. Today, as a 21-year-old USF accounting major, he is extremely successful, as is my 19-year-old daughter, Madeline, also a Mrs. Baker’s kindergartner. I can tell you Mrs. Baker cares about the success of all her students long after they’ve left her classroom,” she said.
Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity, she can never tell where her influence stops.”
Barbara Baker is retiring, but her influence for the last 40 years on every child she inspired has already begun to affect eternity.