The make-believe games Teresa L. Baker played with her siblings growing up in Hollidaysburg, Pa., foreshadowed the career she pursued on her way to becoming St. Philip Neri Catholic School's new principal.
"We used to play school, even as children at home. We would take turns being teachers. Most of the time we mimicked the teachers we had in school," said Ms. Baker, 47, the 10th of 12 children.
She replaces Mary E. Healey, who retired in June after 23 years as principal. Friday found Ms. Baker settling into her new job running the 566-student school on Orchard Road in Linthicum.
She hopes to have a portable library building behind the school ready to open in two to three weeks. The old library, a small room, will probably become storage space, said Ms. Baker.
Barbara H. Garber, who has taught at St. Philip Neri for 29 years, praised the new principal's style. "She wants to do so much for our school," said Ms. Garber.
The larger library will give Ms. Baker a chance to show the children -- kindergarten through eighth grade -- that "the library needs to be a center of life and interest," said Ms. Garber.
Ms. Baker was educated in Catholic schools. She holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the College of Notre Dame and a master's degree in education and administration from Loyola College.
Before St. Philip Neri, she worked in Baltimore County, spending 10 years as principal of St. John's Catholic School, and four years as an English teacher at St. Pius X Catholic School.
Ms. Garber said the new principal's experience will help her understand children's needs. One of these needs is for recognition. Ms. Baker said she encourages teachers to honor a student's academic excellence and social achievement by jotting them down on slips of gold-colored paper.
The "gold slips" are kept in tin containers. At school assembly, usually held the first Friday of each month, Ms. Baker will pull out the names and reward students with a treat.
"I believe you have to get them enthused and energized," said Ms. Baker, adding that she wants students to view "school as a neat place to be."
Some of Ms. Baker's goals are to help children improve their problem-solving skills and allowing English classes to use more literature. Catholic schools traditionally focus on grammar and writing than literature, she said.
For students, she has three requests.
"I ask them to try their best all the time. I ask them to respect the boys and girls in their classroom, the teacher, me. And then I ask them to pray," she said. "I have a strong belief if I can get the children to work toward those three goals, all of the tension and friction goes away."