May UI graduate ready to head toward the border


In Yuma, Ariz., the temperature rarely falls below 40 degrees on a typical day in January.

And for Iowa-raised Nathen Baker — a graduating UI senior who will teach fourth grade in the far-southwest Arizona city — trading in the harsh Midwest cold for a milder Arizona winter doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.

“I’m ready for a change after having to fight through the cold and snow these past couple of winters,” he said.

Baker, an elementary-education major, will work at Harvest Preparatory Academy next year. The Le Grand, Iowa, native said he wanted to get out of the state before he becomes older and settles down. He won’t go alone, either — officials at the preparatory school also offered his girlfriend, UI senior Kirsten Eriksen, a job as a kindergarten teacher.

“We know if we don’t go now, we’re not going to go anywhere,” the taco fanatic said. “We wanted to get away and do our own thing for a while.”

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At first, the job search seemed bleak, Baker said. Officials at many local and out-of-state school districts, facing million-dollar budget cuts, said they weren’t hiring. After scouting the Phoenix and southwestern Arizona area, Baker established connections with school principals and leaders who are originally from Iowa or attended the UI.

Finally, at the end of April, Harvest Preparatory Academy officials offered the 24-year-old a job.
Baker’s career path isn’t a surprise to most around him — Baker’s parents have been teachers for more than 30 years, which initially drew him to the profession, he said. In high school, he participated in many mission trips geared toward helping children.

“These experiences helped me realize how important it is to guide and positively influence kids,” he said.

During his time at the UI, Baker worked at an after-school program at Hills Elementary for two and a half years. There, he watched over small groups of students and supervised field trips.

This semester, Baker student-taught sixth graders at Grant Wood Elementary, an Iowa City school with students from diverse backgrounds. This experience will prepare him for many of his future teaching gigs, said Gary Glenn, a sixth-grade teacher at Grant Wood and Baker’s supervisor. Yuma is less than half-an-hour away from the Mexican border. Almost half of the population is Latino.

“You got to be on your toes all the time,” Glenn said, because teaching sixth-graders on the cusp of entering middle school can be difficult. “But he didn’t get ruffled. He was always very level-headed and very calm.”

In the next two weeks, Baker and his girlfriend plan to go to Yuma, find an apartment, and begin the move. He won’t start working until the end of July, but he is already anticipating what the move and his future will bring.

“The UI has been a big part of my life,” he said. “But I’m excited to take the knowledge and attitude I have down there.”

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