Mr. Baker: A Friendly Curmudgeon Thrives From Helping Others


Kayla Solano, Contributor

A blaring alarm goes off signifying the end of class. Students rush to the door and scurry throughout the campus to enjoy their 40 minutes of lunch while teachers try to make the most out of their free time. However, some students make their way to Mr. Baker’s classroom. With the door wide open, Baker greets his students with a “how are ya” and a fist bump as they walk up the ramp.

Upon entering the room, filled with math posters and many books about tourist travel spots, the students pick a seat and Baker tells them to eat their lunch and to notify him if they need help. A hand raises in the air and he walks over to offer his help.

As a math teacher, Mark Baker has been able to provide help to hundreds of students for over eight years. Baker became a math teacher at San Rafael High in 2013 because he “really enjoyed being around kids,” had experience with math, and both of his sons had attended San Rafael High School, which he took a liking to.

However, before working as a teacher, Baker worked in information technology for 20 years. He worked for the Bank of America from 1980 to 1990, Charles Schwab from 1990 to 1999, and at Greenpoint Mortgage for a couple of years before getting his teaching credential. He was a mainframe technician, but as time went on, mainframes went away and so did the need for his skill. Due to the 2008 recession, the company he was working for “went under,” leaving him without a job and with the opportunity to try something new.

But what many do not know is that Baker did not grow up in San Rafael. Baker grew up on the East Coast, mainly in Philadelphia but also in upstate New York in a “tiny little town that only had one traffic light.” He also studied at Cornell University in New York from 1978 to 1981 where he majored in industrial labor relations but ended up strongly disliking it there. But what led to Baker coming over to San Rafael in 1991?

“In my early twenties my brother was in San Francisco and he invited me out here,” said Baker, “and so I came out to live with him.” He then explains that he moved to Tiburon and lived there a couple of years until he met his wife, who was an FBI agent, and they decided to move to San Rafael. In 2002, Baker decided to finish his degree so he went to St. Mary’s College and finished in 2003.

This may just have been the best decision Baker could have made. Since teaching at San Rafael High, Baker has become a very likable teacher, with many students and colleagues appreciating his friendship, kindness, and his love for helping others.

“My favorite thing about Mr. Baker is how admirable he is. He’s always looking for someone to help, checking in on you and making sure you’re doing good in school, and that you’re on top of your work,” said Daisy Cifuentes, a senior at San Rafael High.

“He’s the kind of friend you want to have, cause he’s always there for you,” said Mr. Ortiz, a math teacher at San Rafael High. “Whenever you need something he’s there for you, he’s got your back, he’s a highly valued friend.”

He is always demonstrating his kind and caring attitude through his constant checkups, snack offerings, conversations, and keeping his students on track. He also shows his dedication to his students and his determination to have them succeed by keeping his door open during lunch, taking his time to solve problems, and encouraging kids to come over during advisory to help them.

James Robison, a sophomore at San Rafael High, said, “He seemed very kind and outgoing, he was friendly, and he liked to talk to everyone in the class.” Additionally, Robison mentions how Baker effectively makes his students feel comfortable and welcome, adding a friendly atmosphere to his classroom.

When I asked Baker what his favorite part of teaching was he instantly responded with “the students.” He further replied, “The students are at a stage of their life where they are working towards their future and most of them try very hard to put themselves in a position to succeed.” He mentions that watching them grow from kids to young adults is such a delight because it is such a crucial part of their lives and their development. He loves watching his students succeed so when his students begin to understand a concept or start to like math he thinks it’s “just absolutely fantastic” and makes him glad to be a teacher.

His love, honesty, dedication, and respect for his students are what allow him to create meaningful relationships with them and drive his students to see him as a friend and not just a teacher. He makes sure that he is involved in his students’ lives in many ways. For example, Baker told me how he’d try to watch his students’ plays, athletic activities, musical concerts, how he’d help with the homework club, and how he loves being part of Mock Trial.

“Mr. B is definitely an integral part of San Rafael High school. He put up with a lot of teenage attitude from me and my friend Ashley Clark, while still caring for us all,” said Riley Robison, a graduate of 2018 currently attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She mentions how Baker would come to her basketball games as well as his other students’ sporting events. “I will always remember Mr. Baker and even though I did not realize it during high school I now realize how much he truly cared. He saw the potential in us all no matter what.”

Sophia Bokaie, a graduate of 2020 currently attending Dartmouth College, said, “Mr. Baker was clearly super dedicated to Mock Trial and passionate about the team. I think he’s made his students a lot more confident in themselves and has taught people how to advocate for themselves.” She also said that Baker truly cares about his community at large and always makes students feel welcome and safe.

Those who don’t know Baker might just think he’s a “grumpy old curmudgeon” as a fellow math teacher at San Rafael High, Mr. Pommier, puts it but his friendliness never goes unnoticed. “One of the things that happens is we go up and get the mail together and he knows every student’s name that we walk by, everybody knows him, he greets everybody,” said Pommier. “He’s definitely not a grumpy old curmudgeon, he’s very kind and dedicated to all of his students and very personable.”

Because Mr. Baker has been my advisor for over four years I have been able to see how much of a selfless person he can be but also how he’s grown to be this way. As I watched his interactions with teachers and students, I noticed that he is still learning, he is in no way perfect, and sometimes it is hard to deal with teenagers, which makes each interaction a learning experience for him. “There’s tons that I’ve learned from my students. I’ve learned that it’s not only ok to make mistakes but it’s good to make mistakes and learn from them, if you set your mind to it anything can be accomplished,” said Baker. He has become a vital part of the San Rafael Community and has shown that he embodies what it means to be a Bulldog, treating his community members with dignity and respect, being engaging and supportive, and truly seeing the potential and worth in each and every one of his students.

“He’s just a very good member of this teaching community because he puts his heart into it,” said Ortiz. “He works hard, and he does the best that he can for all of his students, he’s a good guy.”