I am Thomas E. Bieri and I would like to tell you a little about myself. First, I'll give you a brief overview and then a slide show of some of the many places I've been. Then, if you'd like a more in depth introduction, please read on below the slides for a personal history narrative outlining the path to where I am today.
Privately, I enjoy travel, reading, watching way too many dramas, sit-coms, movies and sports, and drinking craft beer. I am from the USA but now live in Nagoya, Japan with my Nagoya-born wife. I have also lived in England for about three months and in Australia for about nine months. I have circumnavigated the globe on a ship. (Well, nearly. I flew from the west coast of the USA to the Bahamas, then took the ship eastward from there until we got back to Seattle.) I have been to around 25 countries, 37 of the US states plus DC and Guam, five of the eight Australian states and territories, and all but two of the 47 prefectures in Japan. Most of the sports teams I follow and support are Michigan teams, but I prefer the Dolphins over the Lions and I am a big Manchester United fan. I tend to like really hoppy IPAs and also various cask ales. I am not generally a big fan of stouts, but I had an absolutely fantastic pint of Guinness at the storehouse tour in Dublin.
Personal History: I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. I attended an alternative learning school called The Climbing Tree School for most of elementary school, a regular public junior high school, and then for high school I attended City High School, an academic magnet school within the Grand Rapids Public School District. The combination of schools I attended meant I was exposed to a variety of methods which encouraged me to think critically about both life and education.
I moved to California after graduation from high school. There I continued to follow a non-typical educational path while working to support myself. After time studying in the excellent Foothill-De Anza Community Colleges, which included being a member of their first-ever study abroad program (London), I transferred to the University of California at Berkeley. While continuing to work as well as study, I ultimately earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Women’s Studies. I believe that I was the first male to graduate from the Department of Women’s Studies (now Gender & Women’s Studies).
One of the jobs I held during my studies was assisting in the audio-visual support office of the Department of Architecture at UCB and another was in the Conference Department of Mills College in Oakland. The skills I developed in those jobs helped me obtain a full-time job in the audio-visual support office at Mills College. In each of these jobs I found myself supported by an excellent boss and mentor: They were, respectively, Joe Gouig, Doug McAbee, and Jim Graham. I also was helping a variety of people – including professors and students – learn to use a variety of electronic equipment in support of teaching and learning. These jobs also gave me the opportunity to view a large number of course sessions and public lectures that were often completely outside my own field of study, expanding my interests in unexpected ways. Meanwhile, I also did some tutoring of students, mostly from Japan, who had come to the USA to learn English at the English Center for International Women.
These experiences sparked my own interest in teaching. While I was finishing my BA, I also completed a certificate program for teaching English as a foreign or second language at Transworld Teachers. I had become quite interested in Japan as well. I finally had an opportunity to visit Japan for a few days while taking a semester leave and leading the audio-visual support team on a Semester-at-Sea voyage. After finishing the voyage and returning to my position at Mills College, I decided that I wanted to combine my interests in teaching and in Japan by moving to Japan to teach English.
I came to Japan to take up a job offer from a conversation school chain. I spent two years with them teaching English to children in Tottori City, where Akiko Yamawaki was yet another really good person to work for, and then another year teaching both adults and children in Kurume City. Towards the end of my time in Tottori, I started studying a distance-learning Master of Arts program in teaching second languages through the University of Southern Queensland. I ultimately found that I wanted to do face to face learning and to focus on my studies without having to combine them with a full-time job. Therefore, I moved to Toowoomba, Australia for an academic year. While there, Dr. Francis Mangubhai became a mentor and helped me to get an opportunity to teach ESL part-time at the Academy of the Darling Downs.
Loved the view
I returned to Japan, this time to Nagoya City. I took up a full-time position at St. Mary College, which was offering a two-year tertiary program focused primarily on English. I taught both skills-based English courses and content-based courses including American History, Women’s Studies, and Teaching Methodology. In addition, I coordinated and taught in their children’s English program. After a couple of years there, I looked to new challenges and started picking up courses at a number of colleges and universities in the Nagoya area. Eventually, this led to another full-time position. I worked initially on a limited-term contract in the English Communication Department of Nagoya College, a two-year women’s college, and then became a regular faculty member. I coordinated the English skills program and led an overhaul of the curriculum, as well as serving on campus-wide committees including Admissions, Student Affairs, and Future Planning.
VIGI gold medal!
Concurrent with my move to Nagoya, I renewed my involvement with Ultimate, a flying disc team sport. My first game of Ultimate had been at the end of high school, and during my time in Oakland a friend and I started a club that continues to play to this day. We were very open to beginners and played mostly for fun. However, in Nagoya I found myself recruited into a serious, high-level team called Catch or Die, and learning a new way of playing the sport. I started playing regularly in local and national tournaments, and also found myself playing with a couple of other teams including a Master’s team called VIGI (named using the Chinese characters for beautiful and method). I played with the latter in two world championships, 2002 and 2006, where we finished 5th and 1st respectively. I was 42 when we won the gold medal, and the combination of age and increasing professional responsibilities led me to retire from the game within a couple of years. I still miss it!
From about 2010, I found myself getting involved more deeply with professional development activities. I volunteered to be the Membership Chair of the Extensive Reading Special Interest Group (ER SIG) of The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT). This led me into other positions, including Seminar Chair for the annual ER SIG conference, Founding Co-Editor of The Journal of Extensive Reading, and Coordinator of the ER SIG. This latter position also has led to me being very involved at the national level of JALT, serving on the Executive Board and several committees, and becoming the Director of Public Relations in November of 2016.
In 2011, I began to feel another professional change was in order, and simultaneously decided to leave my position at Nagoya College and to begin the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program with Michigan State University. My plan was to start online, then in 2012 attend a summer program followed by fall semester on campus in Michigan, and then finish up online while returning back to Japan after a year away from work. However, I found myself offered an opportunity which I did not want to pass up to work as a Language Instructor as part of a great team in the Nanzan English Education Center, again with a wonderful boss and mentor - John Howrey. This change in plans led to me proceeding through the MAET program completely online and at a much slower pace than originally expected. During this period, I also became much more involved in giving presentations at conferences and leading professional development sessions, doing over 30 from 2013 to 2016. Also, after four years as an L.I., I applied for and was selected to take over my current position as an Assistant Professor within the same university.