Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Shane Baker (KY '23)

May 24, 2024

A man in a blue shirt smiles while being enthusiastically hugged by a group of children in a room with red mats and a climbing wall. This heartwarming scene features Shane Baker, a dedicated teacher from Kentucky who always brings joy to his students.

For Shane Baker (KY '23), balanced integration of technology is an avenue to spark engagement and make learning more accessible for his third grade students. "Students of all ages should have opportunities to work with technology. Working with younger students helps us set healthy boundaries early while also building their digital literacy and toolkit." He received a 2023-24 Kentucky Milken Educator Award at Jennings Creek Elementary on Oct. 26, 2023.

Milken Family Foundation: How have students responded since your Milken Educator Award surprise?

Shane Baker (KY '23): My students have been very enthusiastic since my Milken Educator Award surprise. Some of my students say that they want to be teachers when they grow up, which is especially exciting to hear from my Asian American students. They have had some really funny ideas for how I should spend my money including buying school supplies that I already have, a special field trip just for them next year, and a gaming console for each of them. They are also very quick to remind me that I have to save some of the money for taxes after hearing only one brief tangent about it. 

MFF: Who are your role models as an educator? 

Baker: I have several role models as an educator. My first role model was my high school English teacher, Mr. McCarty. He held high expectations for all of us, and he seldom gave a perfect score on any of our writing pieces. He gave great feedback that was tough but fair. My second role model was my Algebra II teacher, Mrs. Cupp. I had her the year before she retired, but you wouldn't have thought that by the way she taught. She was the most enthusiastic teacher I ever had; moreover, I wanted to have that same kind of infectious attitude about learning. My final role model was my high school band director, Mr. Cornn. He really looked out for all of us. He invested a significant portion of his time in building relationships with us, and he was the one who got me to pursue education in the first place. I think that these three educators formed me into the educator I am today as I emulate their rigor, passion and relationships in my classroom.

MFF: Tell us about your first year of teaching. 

Baker: Honestly, it was probably one of the worst years of my life. I started my career at a half-finished school. We didn't have a cafeteria, gym or playground. All of those schoolwide procedures you take for granted, we had to create during the school year. We had students from different schools in our county that initially didn't mix well together. We had widespread behavior issues as students tested boundaries in their new environment. It was a hot mess, but our staff as a whole blended together to get through that first year. Everyone was supportive regardless of experience and age.

MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?

Baker: I hope that my students remember how much I cared about them. I want them to know that they will always be my students.

MFF: Technology plays a large role in your classroom and you serve as an EdTech Ambassador for your school district. Why is it important for students to work with technology in early grades and what benefits have you seen in their learning?

Baker: Students of all ages should have opportunities to work with technology. We need to explicitly teach them the cognitive and affective skills they need to use it effectively and appropriately. Working with younger students helps us set healthy boundaries early while also building their digital literacy and toolkit. We see many students misuse technology because we aren't explicitly teaching the skills and limitations that go with it. Families at home are often not equipped with the knowledge and resources to teach these skills to their students. I understand that there is some pushback against using technology since the pandemic and distance learning, but we can't afford a pendulum swing when our students can still benefit from engaging with technology. I believe that balance is key when using technology in the classroom.

As an educator, when I add technology in a meaningful way to a standard or learning objective, I tend to get positive results. I can't just throw technology into a lesson for the sake of doing it; moreover, I don't think students can solely learn from technology programs. There must be a balance between analog and digital teaching. Typically, I like how I can assess students in a wider variety, playing to their individual strengths with technology. For example, recording a podcast or vlog as opposed to a formal writing piece makes producing content more accessible to my newer EL (English learner) students. It can also help me engage students more in my lessons. For example, I have used Google Maps when reading historical fiction and nonfiction texts to get students invested in what they're reading about.

MFF: What advice would you share with people who are interested in becoming teachers?

Baker: To those interested in becoming teachers, you are brave and wonderful souls! Nothing is more rewarding and challenging than teaching. I would advise you to try a wide range of grade levels. I didn't know that I should become an elementary teacher until I observed an elementary classroom. (I was initially interested in high school music education). 

My second piece of advice is to be your own kind of teacher. You are the teacher that your students need at that moment, whether they realize it or not. You don't need to be like someone on Teachers Pay Teachers or TikTok to make a difference in their lives. You don't even need to be a Milken Educator! Steal and share ideas from others, but please don't feel the need to copy them exactly. Be the first YOU, not the second someone else!

MFF: Are you working on any interesting initiatives or new projects these days? Is there anything else you want to share about your classroom?

Baker: I have applied to be this year's teacher member of the Kentucky Board of Education. Here's hoping that I'll get to have a bigger voice in my state's education system and get to learn more about its inner workings next school year.

Watch our interview with Shane Baker (KY '23) on the day of his Milken Award notification:


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