Robert Baker: "This is where I belong."
Robert Baker has come full circle. A 2003 graduate of Nashoba Valley Technical High School, he returned to the school in 2016 to teach in the technical program from which he graduated — Electrical Technology.
And though he’d be the first to tell you he wasn’t among the best students during his time at Nashoba Tech, his peers on the staff selected him as this year’s nominee for the Massachusetts Vocational Association’s New Teacher Award.
Each vocational-technical school can nominate one instructor who has less than a combined five years teaching experience, shows evidence of good character and leadership, and is involved in school activities.
Looking back on his career as a student, Baker, 35, credits one of his Electrical Technology instructors, Kevin McDermott, for plugging him in to the right outlet.
“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I’d be here today,” he said. “Mr. McDermott got me my first job.”
It was while working as an electrician that Baker realized he may have missed his true calling.
“I noticed while I was working as an electrician that the thing I liked most was watching the apprentices coming in green and then working their way to becoming knowledgable and then, all of a sudden, they’re electricians. In the back of my mind, I thought it would be so cool to be a teacher.”
Baker’s wife, Nina Griffin, teaches biology at Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Lexington, which is, coincidentally, where McDermott taught after leaving Nashoba Tech (he is now retired), and Baker started working as a substitute teacher there.
“Mr. McDermott and I had a heart-to-heart one day, and he told me I should be a teacher,” Baker said.
Now, five years into his new career, he’s nominated for Best New Teacher. What’s his secret?
“I try to get the kids excited about coming to school. I tell them, ‘With electrical, you can be 21 and have your license and own your own house, and all your friends will still be living at home.”
Just this spring, Baker experienced what he calls his best teaching accomplishment to date. Three juniors from Electrical Technology swept the Industrial Motor Controls category at the SkillsUSA District Competition and will go on to compete in the State Conference.
“I spent the last six months developing a separate curriculum specifically for this event,” he said. “The students worked hard on the assignments I created on their own time as homework. They were laser-focused. I’m so proud of these kids!”
Baker is pumped to see how the students do at the state event but, more importantly, he’s happy for the kids and their classmates, who can take inspiration from them.
Needless to say, he’s not ready to short-circuit his teacher career any time soon.
“This is where I belong,” he said.