Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of profiles of the six finalists for this year’s Crystal Apple Teacher Recognition Program.
HOLCOMB — Michelle Baier has her dream job at Holcomb High School.
A Holcomb native and graduate, the math teacher knew she wanted to be a educator since she was a young girl.
“I had a lot of great teachers when I was in high school, and that’s really what I wanted to do my entire life was to teach and coach,” Baier said on Tuesday.
Baier is one of six finalists for this year’s Crystal Apple Teacher Recognition Program.
The 21st annual Crystal Apple Awards banquet will be 6 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Clarion Inn, 1911 E. Kansas Ave, hosted by the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Tickets are $25, available at the Chamber office, 1511 E. Fulton Terrace, or online at gardencitychamber.net.
Baier decided to teach math because it’s what she enjoys the most, adding that she tries to help her students enjoy math even though it’s not what most people enjoy.
“I try to help them find easier ways to learn it and show them that anyone can learn math, no matter what,” Baier said. “I try to show them that there are a lot of ways to do mathematics and try to show them there are a lot of ways in life that you use math.”
One example this semester is students in Baier’s Transition to College Algebra class are designing their own houses based on what they can afford based on their chosen careers.
Students basically had to start from scratch while designing their houses and had to figure out square footage, and the price of paint, carpeting and other requirements for building a house.
“I thought that was a unique project that those guys had to do,” Baier said. “They’re seniors, so they’re going to be out in the real world real soon, and they felt they really learned a lot from that project.”
Another class project involved collecting data from different websites based on the job that they might have and doing some statistical organization using the data collected.
“A lot of them will have to take a statistics class in college, so I thought that would lead them to an area they may have never experienced before, and prepare them for a statistics class,” Baier said.
Baier said it’s important that she prepares her students not only for college, but for life.
Classes Baier teaches include Algebra 2, College Algebra, Trigonometry, and Transition to College Algebra. She is also an assistant track coach at the high school.
In her classroom, there are several large and colorful framed posters of track athletes from Holcomb during Baier’s tenure as coach.
Baier, who made them, said an athlete had to medal at the state track meet to make it on the wall. Making it on the wall is a student goal.
The most rewarding aspect of teaching for Baier is when her students realize they are capable of doing math and when they find ways that they use it in their lives, she said.
Former students have told Baier they did not realize they would use what they were taught in life. Students also believe they are more successful in college than they thought they’d ever be because of what Baier taught them in high school, she said.
Hearing things like that from current and former students validates what Baier does in the classroom, she said.
“There’s a lot of days when I see students struggling with the concepts, and it makes me feel good about what I do in the classroom every day, that they’re finding success in life and in their future courses,” Baier said.
Baier connects with her students by letting them know she’s not just there as a teacher, she said, noting that she will attend her students’ extracurricular activities — like school plays or sporting events — to show them she cares about them and what they do outside of the classroom.
“I would say the relationship I have with my students is probably the most important thing,” she said. “They’re not really going to care what goes on in my classroom if they think I don’t care about them as students and as people.”
Baier was surprised when she found out she was a Crystal Apple finalist, she said.
If she won the Crystal Apple, Baier said it would be special to her and also for her students, the HHS math department, and the school as a whole.
“I wouldn’t feel like it would be my award. I feel like it would be our reward,” Baier said.
Other Crystal Apple finalists are: Rebecca Burnfin, Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center; Sarah Drubinskiy, Charles O. Stones Intermediate Center; Kim Freeland, Abe Hubert Elementary School; Jennifer Herdman, Garden City High School; and Wendi Terpstra, GCHS.