Nancy Baker Retires from Chain of Lakes Elementary After 42 Years of Teaching
by James Coulter
Of all the former students who were taught under Nancy Baker during her 42-year career at Chain of Lakes Elementary School, Robyn Mims knows she was a good teacher. Not only did Mrs. Baker teach her in fourth grade, but also all three of her sons.
In fact, Mrs. Baker agreed to postpone her retirement and teach for one more year so she could serve as the fourth-grade teacher for Mims’ youngest son. Very few teachers can boast of teaching a former student’s child, let alone three.
When Mims had Mrs. Baker for her fourth-grade teacher, she proved to be one of her best teachers in elementary school, if not her whole academic career. Since then, the two of them kept in close touch with one another, to the point where Mrs. Bakerbecame like a second mother.
“Once she is your teacher, she is family forever,” Mims said. “She was never really a stranger. I kept in touch with her over the years…I went through some hard times in life, and she was always there as a great supporter. Did not matter what it wasfor.”
Mims would have three sons, and each of them was taught under Mrs. Baker. First was her oldest son, Jeremy Hagood. Then was her middle child, Dominick Hagood Martinez. By the time her youngest son, Christian Martinez, was set to enter third grade, Mims insisted that Mrs. Baker postpone her retirement and teach for one more year so she could teach her youngest son.
“It was a running joke for a long time,” Mims said. “She was set to retire last year, and she waited one more year so she could teach the entire family and teach my youngest son…[So] she waited one year and was able to say she taught me and all three of my boys, which, all through her teaching career, she has never been able to say that she has done.”
All three boys benefited greatly from Mrs. Baker’s involvement. More than simply teaching her three sons, Mrs. Baker proved to be a great support for Mims throughout her life. No matter what trial she faced, Mrs. Baker was always there to offer words of advice and encouragement.
“She has become a part of our family,” Mims said. “She is everything that my boys needed for every part of their life, and she is amazing at what she does…She is to this day giving me life advice. It is amazing because it never mattered what I was up against. I was a single mom for a long time, and her advice on whatever the situation was, I felt like I could talk to her about it, it was always successful advice, it always worked. I will never forget the impact that she has had on myself and my boys. It has been an amazing journey and I cannot wait to see what’s next.”
Nancy Baker has been teaching elementary school for 42 years. She was inspired by her great-grandmother, one of the first teachers in Winter Haven, who had also taught for 42 years.
Growing up, Mrs. Baker was not as intelligent as her twobrothers. She never excelled academically like them. So, she knew how difficult learning could be. She wanted to grow up to help students like her.
“It was harder for me to learn,” she said. “I knew what it felt like in the back and nobody doing anything to help you understand….This is my passion because of that.”
Over the past four decades, she has taught grades kindergarten to sixth at Gause Elementary, Riverside, Garden Grove, and Chain of Lakes. She started teaching at a time when teachers receivedtremendous parental support, back when teachers were just as concerned about instilling discipline and morals into their students as much as their basic subjects.
“I have high expectations,” Mrs. Baker said. “I let the parents know upfront what I expect of their children. And they know when they come in, they have to produce their work…When children have expectations, they will usually live up to those expectations.”
More than providing them a good education, Mrs. Baker most appreciated the interaction she received from her students, from hugging them to meeting them in public and allowing them to introduce her to their parents, even if those children were not her students.
At the end of the school year, she hosted a water slide party at her house. She appreciated being able to see them enjoy the end of the school. From attending their baptisms and weddings to meeting their children, she loved the everyday reaction she had with students past and present, and it is this level of intimacy she will miss most now that she has retired.
“It is so nice to be included in things because they appreciate you for what they do,” she said. “Sometimes, they never really get to know those things until after the fact, and that is the reward of teaching. You know they will make an impact on somebody, and when it comes to fruition…that is what is all about.”
For Mims, Mrs. Baker represents what teachers used to be. She represents a time when teachers focused on discipline and instilled within their student’s morals, standards, and work ethic. Such an old-fashioned outlook remains rare in this modern era, and that Mrs. Baker has remained firm and resolute in her teaching methods is a testament that what is not broken does not need fixing.
“She is a traditional teacher,” she said. “They do not make them like that anymore, where she genuinely, compassionately, and empathetically cares about these students and wants the best for them, and will go above and beyond for them and just mold them into the men and women then need to be in this world, and I wish we had more teachers like her in this world.”
Such resolution allowed Mrs. Baker to remain the same teacher for her sons that Mims once had during her fourth-grade year. As such, Mims knew that her boys would receive the same quality education that she once received. Such consistency within the education remains rare, and it will be that consistent quality that Chain of Lake Elementary will no doubt miss now that Mrs. Baker is retiring.
“The most amazing thing about her is she is exactly who she says she is,” Mims said. “She is exactly what people think she is. There has never been any wavering on that. As a parent and as a teacher, she is the same, because her beliefs in parenting and her beliefs in teaching are the same.”