After 15 years of humorous anecdotes, memorable graduation skits and the unusual holiday “Bairdmas,” teacher Bruce Baird is retiring.
Baird taught sophomore world cultures, junior U.S. history and senior World War II history.
Senior Christian Van Vleck, who took Baird’s world cultures class and is currently taking his World War II class, said that he will always remember Baird’s skits because they are unfiltered and use a variety of voices and impressions.
According to Baird, he started doing impressions when he was young, impersonating trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong even before his voice broke.
“At the end of my first year here (2002), the students talked me into doing the talent show,” he said.
“So I did Cookie Monster and my (Spanish) trialogue (a dialogue with three speakers). The students laughed, and they applauded for a minute with a standing ovation.”
Baird said that this started a popularity that he never understood.[sidebar title=”Jacob Frankel, ‘13″ align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]
“We would take like a group picture at the end of the year in U.S. History. His class was such an experience you had to document it. Where else would you take a picture with a class?”
“Any time there was a faculty introduction, the students would give me standing ovations and cheer,” he said.
“No one wanted to be introduced after me.”
An example of Baird’s popularity is his students’ hobby of photo-editing Baird into famous pictures.
His face has been photo-edited onto figures from WWII, politicians and actors – like Douglas MacArthur, Donald Rumsfeld and Bruce Lee. These pictures hang on the walls in his room. [sidebar title=”Chris Thompson, ‘11″ align=”right” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]
“I could be really bratty. We were always drawing on the board, especially if we could draw behind the projector screen to reveal whatever drawing we made. We were always trying to steal his leather jacket.
“One time we convinced him to stage a debate in World Cultures, and we were talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The topic was about if Zionism is a racist ideology. We were always trying to go above and beyond the controversial and provocative.”
A more recent picture by senior Mac Scott features Baird’s face photo-edited onto the face of “Breaking Bad’s” main character, Walter White. It’s titled “Breaking Baird.”
While his students showed their affection for Baird through their outlandish photo-edits, Baird showed his support for them by often attending sports games.
Skovran Cunningham, ‘15, who took all three of Baird’s classes and was his advisee, fondly remembers seeing Baird at soccer, baseball, basketball and lacrosse games. Baird would often go to home games and even some away games, he said.
“He was always super loud and would cheer for individual players,” Cunningham said.
“Even if there were only 10 people at the game, he’d yell like it was homecoming. You could always tell it was him.”
Cunningham, who was in Baird’s advisory for three years, also helped to decorate for Bairdmas.
Since 2008, Baird’s students have decorated his classroom with an evergreen tree before winter break. Ornaments, lights and tinsel hang around the periphery of the room. As of 2015, there has even been a light-up green dinosaur in the corner. This holiday was started by Colin Keiner, ‘11.
According to Baird, junior Keiner put a decorated Christmas tree in his classroom over the weekend. Then the sophomores took advantage of the tree to do a secret Santa gift exchange. Baird participated, and Zach Lemos, ‘12, gave him a Santa costume. While wearing the costume, Baird went around the campus caroling with his students. The next year Keiner brought the tree in again, and the tradition has continued ever since.
Van Vleck, who brought the tree for this year’s Bairdmas, said he immediately knew he wanted to take another class with Baird after sophomore year, despite Baird’s notoriously hard multiple-choice tests.
“When people think of Dr. Baird, his tests come to mind,” Van Vleck said.
“But I really like his teaching style because it teaches you how to take tests, get help and work with a teacher.”
Cunningham, who also found Baird’s test questions challenging, would record Baird’s lectures. He’d listen to them while sleeping every night a week before the tests. After doing this, Cunningham said he felt more confident and once received a 10 out of 10 on the multiple-choice section of a test.
[sidebar title=”Chris Thompson, ‘11″ align=”right” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]
“There was a Halloween in my junior or senior year where I was Dr. Baird. My costume was jeans, a black leather jacket and a family-sized jar of Metamucil. He always had a jar of that in his room.”
However, Cunningham said that he had some “weird dreams” while listening to Baird’s lectures.
Baird is also known for his thought-provoking essay questions.
“Dr. Baird makes you evaluate both sides of the story in his classes and especially his essays, even if the other side is less thought-about,” Van Vleck said.
He also said that the class was entertaining because Baird is very animated and pantomimes stories when he gives lectures.
“We were talking about Great Zimbabwe, and he pulled up a picture of a Stonehenge-like ruin,” Van Vleck said.
“He told a story about how he visited there and was surrounded by monkeys, and dramatized how he was going to fight them.”
Stories like these will be recorded and expanded upon in Baird’s YouTube videos.
Baird is recording these stories to share with students and alumni. He has already recorded “Dr. Baird Dunks a Basketball,” “Dr. Baird Declares Jihad,” “Dr. Baird Orders Chinese Food in Poland” and “Dr. Baird Goes Face-to-Butt with the Mother of all Grizzly Bears.” (For more information, go online.)
Baird said he wanted to start with personal stories that his students would remember, but add a comedic twist. [sidebar title=”Jacob Frankel, ‘13″ align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]
“It seems like everyone loved to hang out with (Baird). When I was a sophomore, seniors who were super-confident would drop by to chat during class. They’d sit down and start raising their hands. He created an environment where this was normal and acceptable.”
“My natural style is to be an actor on stage; humor and comedy are a big part of (my personality),” he said.
“I don’t like to get serious. Besides, (using humor) is a way to build an audience.”
Although he’s starting with comedy, he said he is also open to discussing history, philosophy and politics.
“I would like to take whatever knowledge I have and convert it into more political stuff,” Baird said.
“I could be as controversial as I want, but I would put this on a separate YouTube channel.”
Baird was originally inspired to make a YouTube channel after offering extra credit to his students for submitting suggestions of ways to reach youth when he was working with the Northern California 9/11 Truth Alliance. This group, however, wasn’t interested in youth outreach, and Baird said that he’ll have to do things on his own.
Baird said that he has “given up on old people and looked toward young people because they are willing to look at things without blinders.”[sidebar title=”Chris Thompson, ‘11″ align=”right” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]
“There was a time he was talking about the Holocaust. He talked about what people had done in their last moments of life in the gas chambers. He got emotional and teary-eyed. I respected that he cared so much and had that thoughtfulness. I’ll always admire Dr. Baird for the courage of his convictions and his sense of individuality.”
He has addressed controversial topics each year in his classes and has received generally positive responses from students, he said.
Cunningham is one of these.
“In other history classes, teachers present information as fact, but Dr. Baird would give controversial information and let us think for ourselves,” he said.
“We discussed conspiracies about Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, 9/11 and (Holocaust survivor) Elie Wiesel, but he never forced his ideas on anyone.”
Cunningham said that Baird wanted his students to formulate and defend their own opinions.
“I like being able to think of history as something that’s not so cut and dried,” Cunningham said.
“Dr. Baird was willing to let us think about things that other teachers would be too uncomfortable talking about.”
According to Cunningham, he and other advisees – Ethan Ham, ‘15, George Cvetich, ‘15 and Chris Liston, ‘15 – started calling Baird “Dad” in sophomore year.
“He’d respond to it, and I could kind of tell he liked it, but he would never admit it,” Cunningham said.
—By Nicole Wolkov