Shane Baker, a 3rd-grade teacher at Jennings Creek Elementary School (Warren County), said he never imagined being in front of an elementary school.
“Throughout high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “Like I would say things like I’d want to be an engineer because I knew that was something that people needed a lot of.”
Once in college, Baker thought about becoming a music teacher, citing his high school band director as inspiration.
“He really focused on his relationships with his students and making sure that we felt valued and that was something I wanted to do,” he said.
Baker attended Western Kentucky University and said he knew right away music education wasn’t the path for him.
“I started that degree track and I was just not as thrilled with it as I thought I would be,” he said.
He switched his degree track to education because it felt like it was the right move.
“I’m glad to have been proven right,” he said.
Baker graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s in elementary education and is currently working on a master’s in teacher leadership.
He was also one of the latest Kentucky educators to receive the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. He was presented with the award at Jennings Creek Elementary School, which includes a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize, in a surprise ceremony on Oct. 26 at his school that included students, faculty and leaders from the district and community.
Baker said he was stunned when he heard his name called in an assembly that included all of his teaching colleagues and the entire student body.
“It was really fun, but I was definitely still in shock,” he said. “I mean, a few students came up and told me right after it happened that they wanted to be teachers now too.”
Baker’s enthusiasm for learning extends beyond the expected responsibilities of the classroom. His students regularly find him at school block parties serving food or leading the games, acting out skits during the school’s annual Literacy Night or participating in choral reading with his students in class.
He is a Google Certified Educator, volunteered to teach in the school’s Virtual Academy during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and served on the school-based decision-making council.
Even with all his accolades and experience, Baker said his students are his number one priority.
“These students mean a lot to me,” he said. “Our school community has been through quite a few things over the last few years, such as the pandemic and the tornado.”
Baker spoke about the historic tornado in Dec. 2021 that caused massive damage in 16 counties, including Warren, but despite these tragic moments, Baker said he knew his purpose in and outside of the classroom.
“It was a rude awakening for a lot of our families and community members, but I knew I needed to be there to help them learn and to be someone who will hold them accountable and build those skills of resiliency,” he said.
Baker said the tornado impacted many of his student’s houses and neighborhoods and said he still works to bring positivity to his students daily and encourage them to move forward.
“People won’t make excuses for them their whole life, so I really want to fight for them and make sure they get a quality education so that they can go out and bring their own unique ideas and take those ideas into the world,” he said.
Baker said he believes that the teaching profession needs more quality instructors, specifically male teachers in elementary education.
“This includes boys and girls. They all need a strong male presence in their lives to become well-rounded adults. You don’t have to be the perfect role model 100% of the time,” said Baker.
For current educators, Baker said he understands the daily toll teaching can take on a person. One of the most valuable practices he has incorporated into his life is taking a full day off each week.
“I intentionally put away all school-related tasks for 24 hours,” said Baker. “I think to stay in this profession during these times, we need to ensure our health and welfare as human beings. It seems unreasonable to give up 24 hours at first, but it really does change how you approach work.”
Despite the challenges, Baker believes that things will get better over time and continues to encourage people who have a heart for children to step inside the classroom.
“No great change comes without at least a little bit of disruption,” he said.
Baker said he never would have known he had a passion for elementary education if he never changed his career path and taken a step inside the classroom. As each of his students makes an impact on his life, he hopes that he can do the same for his students and families within his community.
“I would go by the old saying, if you see a problem, you can be the one to fix it,” he said.