LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Tetsuo Ogawa

Position: Japanese Teacher
School: Eleanor Roosevelt High School
School District: Prince George's County Public Schools
City, State: Greenbelt, MD

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Music that Describes Tetsuo

Tetsuo Ogawa was nominated by a student, Samuel Anotado.

“Sensei” means teacher in Japanese. “Kyouikusha” also means teacher in Japanese. They may have the same definition, but when you translate the individual meaning of each kanji, you begin to see the pivotal nuance between the two:

“Sensei” translates to “before birth.” 

“Kyouikusha” translates to “a person who teaches by growing.” 

Although his students call him “sensei” in class, Ogawa Sensei identifies more with “kyouikusha.” True to his word, at Eleanor Roosevelt High School (ERHS), he not only teaches Japanese to his students, but he gives them the space to find themselves and challenges them to grow even more.

Ogawa Sensei prioritizes the enjoyment of his students in all six of his classes. Instead of focusing on bookwork, he institutes culture days where he shows Japanese movies, discusses Japanese current events, invites representatives from the Japan Exchange and Teaching program to present, and implements interactive projects such as television advertisements. He even participated in an online exchange called “Global Classmates” which allowed his students to learn by communicating with actual Japanese students. Thus, Ogawa Sensei strays away from overbearing instruction, as he believes students learn better when they are having fun.

From his foundation of enjoyment, Ogawa Sensei's classroom turns into a family. Students look forward to attending his class to learn, and time flies faster in his class than any other class. Despite the fact that the language credit is only a minimum of two classes, many students decide to pursue higher-level Japanese classes simply because they love the language, the learning environment, and Ogawa Sensei.

From this foundation, Ogawa Sensei builds environments for his students where they can challenge themselves, the first of which is hosting a Japanese student. As head of ERHS’ Kanagawa-Maryland sister state program, he finds a total of 40 students whose families are willing to host a Japanese student from the three delegations that visit the school: Atsugi High School, Yokohama Suiran High School, and student representatives of the Kanagawa prefecture.  

In order to facilitate the respective 40 Japanese students that visit his school each year, Ogawa Sensei relies heavily on his host students. For this reason, regardless of their experience, he makes sure to prepare volunteers through extensive meetings because the host students are responsible for their Japanese students once they leave school. Host students have the opportunity to practice hospitality, exhibit open-mindedness toward cultural differences, recognize where they stand in a global society, and act as a teacher and guide for their Japanese student.

Behind the scenes, Ogawa Sensei writes itineraries, plans trips to places like the University of Maryland and NASA, contacts officials and schools in Japan, coordinates with other teachers around the school, comes early and stays after school to oversee events, communicates plans to Japanese teachers and students, and leaves himself available in case of an emergency. His oversight ensures a smooth, wonderful experience for visitors, lays the groundwork for the host students to explore and better themselves as a person, and allows Japanese students and host students to form long-lasting bonds. These unforgettable moments are why Ogawa Sensei has kept the hosting tradition alive for all 13 years he has worked at ERHS. The school has welcomed a total of 500 Japanese students and teachers from the Kanagawa Prefecture.

At the same time, Ogawa Sensei also plans for an annual Japan trip. Using a process that's similar to searching for host students, he finds 20 to 30 Roosevelt students who are interested in going to Japan to visit the same two Japanese high schools—Suiran and Atsugi High School—that visited earlier in the year. However, while those interested in hosting could simply sign up, students interested in going to Japan must undertake an extensive screening process where Ogawa Sensei meets with administrators, ERHS’ Department Chair of World Language, and other necessary staff members in order to select students fit to represent ERHS, Maryland, and the entire United States.

After the pool of applicants is selected, Ogawa Sensei conducts regular meetings prior to the trip in order to address the rules when traveling, what to bring, passports, preparing a performance, the itinerary, paying for the trip, how much money to bring to the trip, any questions parents may have, packing tips, cultural differences, the importance of punctuality, assigning group leaders, and so much more. He also writes itineraries, contacts officials and travel agencies, books hotels, finds chaperones among ERHS staff, coordinates with the two Japanese high schools that visited his school, and plans trips to places like Mt. Fuji and Fushimi Inari. 

Once the group lands in Japan, Ogawa Sensei spearheads the process and troubleshoots when necessary—prioritizing the safety of his students. He acts as a translator and tour guide, reserves restaurants, keeps everybody on schedule, always keeps headcount, holds and distributes train tickets, plans with the other chaperones, and takes students to hospitals when necessary. In short, everyone is taken care of.

Ogawa Sensei gives students time to enjoy their stay in Japan, but he never forgets to incorporate learning. Instead of only going to malls, he brings students to museums, shrines, and famous landmarks such as Fushimi Inari. He lets students stay with a Japanese high school student’s family for one of the two weeks of the trip so they can experience what life is like as a Japanese high school student.

"Through hosting, we immerse ourselves in Japanese high school life, witness the day to day routines of a Japanese family, and understand and respect cultural differences," said Anotado. "Ultimately, we create friendships that will last a lifetime. More importantly, we were granted this freedom to learn and explore because Ogawa Sensei has ensured the safety of over 200 American students over the years."

In addition to the exchange program, Ogawa Sensei also sponsors ERHS’ Japanese National Honor Society (JHNS), which is a nationwide organization that branches off into various high schools around the country. He starts by carefully selecting members through an application process, making sure each applicant not only demonstrates a deep interest in Japanese language and culture, but possesses potential skills to the organization as a whole. Once new members are inducted, he sets the tone in the first few meetings that, even though inductees can have fun, they are striving for professionalism.

From there, Ogawa Sensei releases the reigns and lets the students run the society. The students created a probation system to keep members in check, established cabinet positions in order to delegate work accordingly, and hosted J-Club and a Japanese dance team, Niji-Alpha, to introduce Japanese culture to the general student body. They've also formed teams to compete against other high schools around the nation in the National Japan Bowl. Cabinet members applied for and won the Sakura Grant from the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC, which availed $2,000 to use for the society. All of this would not be possible without Ogawa Sensei.

Cabinet members have the opportunity to propose ideas and set agendas knowing that not only other cabinet members will give feedback, but that Ogawa Sensei will provide feedback, as well. J-Club, Niji-Alpha, Japan Bowl, full member meetings, and cabinet meetings are all able to take place after school because Ogawa Sensei sacrifices his time to stay and watch over them. The Japan Bowl teams can go to the competition halls because Ogawa Sensei fills out the lengthy field trip packet forms and acts as a chaperone.

"Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, which required us to move elections to Discord, Ogawa Sensei took the time to make an account and stay in the three-hour-long call in order to make sure the elections ran smoothly," said Anotado. "Throughout each and every process, you can find Ogawa Sensei helping out one way or another."

Ogawa Sensei does not stop there. He continues to grab opportunities that will benefit his students, JNHS, and his school as a whole. This year, Ogawa Sensei established a new relationship between his school, All Nippon Airways (ANA), and the National Cherry Blossom Festival (NCBF). In recognition of this relationship, six cherry blossom trees were planted on ERHS school grounds. With this wonderful opportunity, he also gave JNHS and his Level III class the opportunity to run the commemorative ceremony—which consisted of representatives from ANA and NCBF, the mayor of Greenbelt, and the Supervisor of World Languages of Prince George’s Public Schools. JNHS members sang the national anthem for both the US and Japan, and they helped with setting up equipment the day before and day of the ceremony. One member played the Japanese koto, and the few selected students of his Level III class practiced an acapella of Sakura Sakura. Although the students had a lot to do, Ogawa Sensei made sure they met the professional standard for the ceremony, and in turn, each student grew from the challenges. 

In 2017, Ogawa Sensei welcomed the Japanese national broadcasting station, NHK World to record an episode with the Japanese pop star May J. In 2015, he brought Roosevelt students to the White House to welcome Prime Minister Abe and his wife. Through each opportunity, he has brought recognition for ERHS and invaluable experiences for students who participated.

"Through all the foundations Ogawa Sensei has set, many students have blossomed into beautiful flowers," said Anotado. "I have seen students come out of their shell and gain the respect of their fellow peers as they lead with boldness. I have seen students who utilize their talents to create beautiful illustrations for banners, choreograph cultural dances, host ceremonies to welcome Japanese delegations, create websites to showcase the Japanese program, play wonderful renditions of Japanese music on a variety of instruments, and so much more to benefit and serve others. I have seen students find their love for Japan and continue to pursue it when they graduate from high school. I have met alumni who are still passionate about the Japanese language and culture today. They still visit Ogawa Sensei and are grateful for what he has done. Ogawa Sensei has touched countless students, myself included."

"In my sophomore year of high school, Ogawa Sensei found out that I was not in JNHS and insisted I joined," said Anotado. "At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but he saw something in me. Soon, I found myself president of the entire society, and more importantly, I found my passion for public speaking, leading, and Japanese in general. From my passions, I decided to apply to International Christian University in Tokyo, in hopes that I can teach English in a Japanese high school and evangelize there. Ogawa Sensei helped me through every step of the application process. If it were not for him, I would not have found my life’s passion, let alone pursue it. Today, I can say with full confidence that thanks to Ogawa Sensei, I have decided to commit four years to study in ICU."

"Ogawa Sensei empowers his students by providing the soil for his students to plant themselves. He waters them with challenges while providing guidance when necessary," said Anotado. "As a result, he has led numerous students to find the potential in themselves and to grow from it."

Comments (5)

Troy Bradbury Posted over a year ago

Mr. Ogawa is an amazing teacher. My class was across the hall from his for a few years and I can attest to the love his students have for him and his class. They run to class and you can hear the enjoyment and learning that is going on from across the hall. I often wished I was in his class. As a result of getting to know him, he invited me to Japan with him and the students on their yearly trip. This trip was life-changing and watching him navigate the students and their learning was inspiring. At each level, he is a dedicated teacher, learner, and adventurer. He is an important part of ERHS culture and most importantly he has changed the lives of his students.

Clinton Shands Posted over a year ago

Mr. Ogawa is one of our most treasured teachers at ERHS. He is exceptionally gifted at making students feel comfortable and always maintaining a positive atmosphere. His students excel because of his effective communicative skills. Mr. Ogawa carries out his responsibilities in a responsible and dependable manner, and consistently participates in extra-curriculum activities, including planning and organizing our very successful yearly Japanese Exchange Program. Mr. Ogawa is an exemplary teacher and positive role model who shapes the lives of his students each year, particularly those who are honored to travel with him to Japan.

Michelle Ma Posted over a year ago

I have been a student of Mr. Ogawa's for almost 4 years now and I have learned so much from him. He has always encouraged me to broaden my horizons, take risks, and be open-minded. Because of it, I've had wonderful experiences in the Japanese program that he runs; I have gone to Japan, hosted exchange students, and competed in the National Japan Bowl Competition, where I have learned so much about the world. I will never forget the impact that Mr. Ogawa's teaching and support has had on my life.

Kathryn Bynum Posted over a year ago

As the Department Chair of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, I can attest that all of the writer's statements are 100% true. Mr. Ogawa is a leader in our department and he works tirelessly every day and every year to bring Japanese culture to life for his students. He inspires them to become lifelong learners.

Reginald McNeill Posted over a year ago

This essay does a great job of describing Mr. Ogawa. He does his job with a smile and he always put children first. He continues to strive to improve. He looks for more opportunities for students and supports them in all endeavors. Proud of Mr. Ogawa. I wish him the best.