Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Memory of Dr. Donald Baer

I had the lovely opportunity of attending college and graduate school at the University of Kansas. I'm grateful I was able to attend when I did, when the program was small and the faculty were legends (Baer, Wolf, Morris, Bushell, Sherman, Sheldon, Miller, Semb, Cooper, and others!). And I think I would love to go back now, with the relatively new but also successful faculty and program. As an undergraduate in the program, I really had no idea how great the faculty at the University of Kansas was until I attended my first ABA Convention in Florida (1998, I think?). During the opening address, Don Baer was quoted and I thought, "Hey, is that our Don Baer?" What a newbie I was! 

My primary advisors in graduate school were David Born and Don Bushell (with Mark Matthews and Don Baer rounding out my committee). I started meeting with Don Bushell as an undergraduate, actually. I worked in a school he founded from my junior year of college through my time in graduate school. When I started graduate school he told me I needed to take as many classes with Don Baer as I could and I did! Every week we had research meeting. It was pretty magical. Don Bushell and  Don Baer attended each week and met with our research group, usually 3 to maybe 7 students would show up. Sometimes Dr. David Born would drop by, as well. I learned so much from Don and Don and the other students in the program on those Fridays!
I believe I took a class from Don Baer nearly every semester. When my first summer semester was coming up, I saw his name in the timetable but it said permission was required to join the class. I went to his corner office and knocked on his open door. He turned in his chair and greeted me with a classic, almost Santa Claus-like smile (very contagious). I asked him if I could take his summer class. The conversation we had was one I will never forget. First, he asked me why I wanted to be a behavior analyst. I thought I anwered his question but he had a way of teaching no matter what your answer was. He clarified and explained that as behavior analysts, we would be "outsiders" in the field of education. (Remember, this was in about 2000; a lot has changed since then.) He gave a few examples and seemed to question whether or not I was comfortable being on the outside. My response may not have been what other people would call "correct" but I felt comfortable enough... I responded with, "Oh, no problem there, I'm a Mormon!" To which he then flashed another terrific smile, put his hands together, and said, "Well, I'm a Jew!" He then filled me in on experiences he'd had when he was younger, his previous contact with "mormons" in Utah, and our "position" as behavior analysts/outsiders in the field of education. It was fantastic and led to one of my most stressful summers. You see, Don "let" me "take" "his" class. However, he stressed that he didn't typically teach in the summer. So, he told me what book we would be using and that he expected me to teach one or two chapters a week, complete with overhead projections. The first couple of weeks, it was just me and Don (in his gray gardening-type jumpsuit). Then another student enrolled and I was able to "teach" every other week. I remember being so nervous every week. He was just the type of person that brought out the best in people.  I wanted to impress him.... Not look stupid. I prepared the materials but Don taught me a lot that summer.. He didn't just teach "facts" he taught a way of thinking and of looking at things. I will always be grateful for being able to have that time with him. 

I've been thinking that I don't think I ever wrote this down. I'm not a "journal-er". But this is something I want to remember. I want to remember how if felt to be around people who just "taught".  I want to remember Don Baer and Don Bushell and research meetings. I don't want to forget my early days in the field and how they taught me to "think". And I thought maybe others might enjoy this memory of mine, as well. I mean really, he was just too cool to forget.