La Grange soldier is a teacher at heart
Lyons Township High School math teacher Joe Barker (right) receives the Teacher of the Year award from the Western Springs VFW Post 10778 member Frederick Rodriguez Oct. 17. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Name: Joe Barker
Teaches: Math at Lyons Township High School since 2002
Previously: Engineer for Zenith Electronics
Rank: Colonel in the
Illinois Army National Guard’s 244th Army
Updated: December 9, 2012 6:03AM
LA GRANGE — Juggling students, military service and family life isn’t easy, but Joe Barker has found a way.
A math teacher at the Lyons Township High School North Campus in La Grange, Barker also is a colonel serving as a team chief for the Illinois Army National Guard’s 244th Army Liaison Team.
Barker of La Grange has been deployed four times in 32 years with the National Guard’s Reserve program. He served twice in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq and Bosnia on tours of duty lasting seven to 14 months.
“The last time, I was away from school for 14 months,” he said of the 2010-11 school year. “LT was nice enough to hire me when I was about to be deployed in 2001, and they gave me tenure while I was deployed.”
Barker said the school has been very supportive and checks in with his family while he’s on active duty.
“When I’m deployed, I work with other armies, coalition partners joining with the U.S.,” he explained. “Most recently in Afghanistan, I was working with the Polish army. It’s very interesting.”
When his children were older, Barker sought a career change after working as an engineer designing TVs for Zenith Electronics. After coaching his kids’ athletic teams and training soldiers, Barker said he decided to become a teacher.
“I worked as a substitute teacher while going to school for my teaching certificate, and I student taught at LT,” he said. “My first few years I knew kids the same age as my kids.”
After teaching for a year at Oak Park-River Forest High School, Barker was hired at LT and began teaching in 2002.
Barker said balancing civilian and military life can be challenging.
“But my wife is very understanding, and LT is great,” he said. “Everybody is accommodating, and that makes it easy.”
Barker’s balancing act has attracted recognition. LT presented him with the Vita Plena Award in September 2011, recognizing his service to school, community and country.
In addition, the Western Springs VFW Post 10778 named Barker Teacher of the Year Oct. 17 in appreciation of his commitment to country, school and the community.
“He’s very deserving,” said LT Superintendent Tim Kilrea. “He’s one of our best, very popular among the staff and kids.”