‘A God thing’: Baer’s journey to Tabor leading to classroom

Willow Baer

Only four days separated Willow Baer’s decision to attend Tabor College and her arrival on campus.

Her 933-mile journey to Hillsboro was atypical, but it didn’t stop the Marshallville, Ohio, native from pursuing her dreams of becoming a teacher as a Bluejay.

After graduating from Hesston (Kan.) College in May 2020, Baer had initially decided to spend one year with the Serving and Learning Together program through the Mennonite Central Committee.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to her trip abroad, keeping Baer away from teaching in Bogota, Colombia.

Enter Tabor.

During her stay in Hesston, Baer observed at Plum Creek Elementary School in Hutchinson, Kan. The building, a part of Buhler Schools, was also home for Caroline Riggenbach (g’18). The two connected about Tabor College, understanding that Riggenbach had also attended Hesston College before moving to Hillsboro for two years.

After praying over and understanding her goals of completing her education out-of-state, Baer and her family began their trek to Tabor. They had never been to or heard of Tabor prior to 2020, but she felt led to see what was in store for her in Hillsboro.

“I had never visited and it was two weeks before school that I talked to the admissions counselor,” she said. “Honestly, it was a God thing that I felt I needed to come here…. Even other gap year opportunities had opened up. and it didn’t feel right. I just wanted to go to Tabor.”

Baer found a perfect fit inside the education department.

Coincidentally, the 2020 fall semester was also the first for three of Tabor’s education faculty. Baer felt an instant connection with the pedigree that each brought to the program.

“I felt like the professors were really inclusive and easy to get to know,” she said. “A lot of opportunities were coming up, and they talked about student teaching (abroad). We were getting into classrooms, and it was just really good.”

Baer and her classmates are also now equipped with a brand-new home inside the Shari Flaming Education Commons. Located on the second floor of the Tabor library, the signature space holds a curriculum library and two large classrooms dedicated to elementary and secondary education.

She said it’s a perfect place to prepare for their future as educators.

“It’s amazing to have a space that’s set up for you to work together and contribute ideas with one another,” Baer said. “… When you have that space where you can communicate, it’s preparing you for your future and creating a more realistic environment as teachers.”

 It was the next step in Baer’s progression to the classroom.

The daughter of a high-school teacher, she never doubted that it was the field for her.

From helping with kids in church to mentoring younger female students, it created a platform for Baer to share her gifts.

“I’ve always been drawn to making people better and helping them better themselves,” she said. “I feel it’s what teaching does because you can make a difference in a student’s life. Helping students have their ‘a-ha’ moments when they’re not getting things and then they’re able to process what they’re struggling with, it’s just so rewarding. Especially with younger kids, they’re just so fun. They’re a challenge, but I like the challenge too.”

Baer is set to graduate with her degree in elementary education in May 2022. She will student teach in the spring while praying which door God will open next.

While she’s roughly seven months from setting up her first classroom, Baer continues to pray that Colossians 3:23 would serve as the foundation for her work as a teacher.

“I hope every child that comes into my classroom (will) know they are loved by God, and they can feel that in the environment we create,” she said. “We’re building God’s kingdom here and now. It’s not something for the future. It’s an amazing opportunity. The harvest is plentiful. You get a group of students every year, and you can make a positive impact on them.”