Troy Hogg grew up in Jefferson City, but he has a habit of throwing in a Japanese word here and there. And every once in a while he catches himself bowing to friends instead of waving at them.
Hogg spent the past three years teaching English in Ogaki, a small town in Japan close to Hiroshima. He is one of four teachers new to Columbia Public Schools who recently taught abroad. Mary Laffey, human services director for the district, said that number is unusually high for incoming teachers. Last year, there was only one.
On Monday, Hogg began teaching fourth-graders at Eugene Field Elementary School. He went to Japan knowing little of the language, but now he plans to share Japanese words and culture with his students.
Ty Stephenson, who is in his first year teaching Spanish at Rock Bridge High School, spent the past year teaching social studies in Morocco. Fluent in Spanish, he has also spent a year in Guatemala and two years in Panama.
“When I teach Spanish, I want it to be so much more than just grammar,” said Stephenson, who taught at an English-speaking school in the mainly Arabic- and French-speaking nation. He wants to use his experiences to show students how history has influenced the Spanish language.
In Irvine, Scotland, Tara Frearson taught the equivalents of kindergarten and fifth grade for two years. Frearson, who now teaches third grade at Fairview Elementary School, said classes in Scotland were more formal and strict. Her students stayed with one teacher for the entire day, and she was responsible for all subjects.
“If they went to the library, it was because I went with them. If they had music, I gave it to them,” Frearson said.
Kerri Henness, now teaching special education at Blue Ridge Elementary School, taught kindergarten for one year at an international missionary school in Caracas, Venezuela. Almost all of the students at Henness’s school were bilingual or trilingual and often spoke to each other in languages other than their native tongues.
The K-12 school had just 120 students, she said, and the small class sizes led to a sense of family. Henness said the teachers were close, and support from students’ parents was strong.
The same goes for Morocco. Stephenson said the government gave teachers much more freedom than they have in the United States in terms of what and how they teach, and that parents trust the teachers to help their children learn.
Schools in Japan are more structured and rigid than in the United States, said Hogg, who taught in Sedalia for four years before going to Ogaki. The students wear uniforms, and classes are year-round. Classrooms and buildings are mostly gray and plain — heavy on the concrete.
Henness said that as a result of her experience, she hopes to convey to American students an interest in other cultures and countries and a greater knowledge of geography. Hogg and Frearson share similar hopes — and they brought home constant reminders: Hogg married a Japanese woman, and last week Frearson married a Scot.