It was easy to lose track of Ryan Baker in a classroom. He invariably sat near the back of the cramped trailer I taught in during my first three years at Diamond Middle School.
When Ryan spoke, it was with a soft, halting voice, one which was rarely heard in my class unless he had something important he wanted to say. Most of the time he remained silent during our class discussions, but there were occasions when an issue struck a chord with him that Ryan leaped into the fray and took no prisoners.
Ryan was one of those students who fell behind with his work and had to finish with a flurry at the end of the quarter to make a decent grade, but those grades never reflected his intelligence. The B's and C's he recorded in my current issues and creative language arts at DMS were not an accurate portrayal of Ryan Baker. His intelligence was right at the top of his class.
After having him in my classroom for three years, we moved in different directions. Ryan joined the freshman class at Diamond High School, while I moved from the trailer into the old Diamond High School building when it became the middle school, to begin what turned out to be my final year in the Diamond R-4 School District.
I don't remember running into Ryan that year. At the end of the year, I signed a contract to return for a fifth year at Diamond, but the last day of the 2002-2003 school year turned out to be my last day as a Wildcat. I was informed by letter that I was being put on an unpaid leave of absence due to a budget problem for the school district.
Somehow the word spread quickly and I did nothing to hide the news. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I received from my former students and their parents. One of the first to contact me was Ryan Baker.
I was at a very low point, and Ryan, who had not always shown a high regard for meeting deadlines during his three years in my class, came through with perfect timing on July 11, 2003. His e-mail message was a powerful pick-me-up when I was at my lowest moment. It came at a time when I just been told, I was put on leave because I was the teacher whose absence would least affect the students:
I just wanted to tell you that I have appreciated your classes. At first, I could really care less about politics, but somehow, your class made it fun. Going up and beyond the curriculum of the normal language arts class, your class has really taught me some important writing skills, while more than preparing me for high school grammar. Though I may not have been the best student, or tried as hard as I should have, looking back on it, I really missed your class while in high school for the first year. I just went to your site, and patiently read through all of the articles that you have posted, and felt that I should thank you for being one of the teachers that actually taught class as if it were a desire, and not as if it was merely a job. I just had to say thank you.
I shed more than a few tears after reading that e-mail from a most considerate young man.
I cried again earlier tonight when I read that Ryan Baker died, 17 days short of his 21st birthday.
I am thankful I had three years with Ryan. I wish things had worked out differently for him.