by: Campbell Bates, Staff Writer, November 2021
Richard Baker has been involved with the Nobles community in many different capacities over the past 50 years of his tenure. He has been the Headmaster, an English teacher, Head of the English Department, advisor, coach, parent, and now grandparent.
Though headmaster was perhaps the most prestigious role he took, his work as an English teacher and advisor is the most important to him. In fact, Baker did not want to become headmaster when offered the job. He said, “My image of being the Head of the School is that all the nasty things that occur, the head has to deal with. That is not as much fun as playing with [students], so I never wanted to do it.”
Despite his apprehension, former Headmaster Ted Gleason believed Baker was the best person for the job.
Baker continued doing what he considered to be “scut work” because it was an important part of his role as headmaster. He said, “[I] planned for things, even though it wasn’t particularly energizing to me.” Even if he didn’t enjoy the work as much, he did an incredible job.
When Baker became headmaster, there were only three buildings on campus: Shattuck Schoolhouse, Putnam Library, and an administrative building. “There weren’t enough classrooms. There wasn’t enough of anything. So I started building buildings, and I built a lot of them,” Baker said.
He built the Baker Science Building, Morrison Athletic Center, and Pratt Middle School.
He said, “I focused on the things that were important at the time- including the infrastructure of the school.” These spaces have provided a place for Nobles to grow over the years and they proved to be an important part of Baker’s legacy as headmaster.
Though he had a large impact as headmaster, Baker felt that the job did not particularly resonate with him. He said, “That’s not me. I’m not a builder. But that was what the school needed and so that is what I did.”
Besides the infrastructure of the school, Baker’s other main focus was on the students and improving the atmosphere. “The other thing I thought the school needed was an upgraded admissions [process] to make sure that the quality of the school was known for the kids that attended,” he said.
Baker changed the face of the school for all incoming and prospective students. Director of Athletics Alex Gallagher (N ‘90) said, “One of the things that drew me back [after graduating] was how proud I was of the fact that the school had really confronted a lot of the areas where it needed to grow and taken on those challenges, and that has to do with the incredible leadership of Mr. Baker.”
Nobles has changed a lot in the past 50 years since Baker first started here. One major difference is diversity, but Baker believes that the diversity touted by the school is partially exaggerated. “There are diverse ideas in the classroom, but there is a much greater homogeneity than I would perhaps have guessed,” he said.
“One of the things I try to do in my class is to lighten [pressure] and to make kids laugh. I have a reputation of making class hard, but my intent is to make it fun so that students learn to make their way through difficulties,” Baker said.
Baker’s goals as an English teacher are two-fold. “What I hope to do is make the students more sophisticated verbally, but also feel good about themselves.” He likes to teach certain books, but the material is not as important to him as the lessons that students learn.
Baker likes to have lunch with all of his students and advisees, either individually or in small groups, at least once a semester. In this way, he continues to form these student-mentor connections outside of the classroom. His main goal is to foster deep connections with the students. “The primary responsibility I have is the relationship with the students.” Baker considers student-mentor bonds to be the most valuable part of his time at Nobles.