The staff at Tohoku International School have origins as varied as our students. Although most of our staff comes from the United States, also represented are Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and South Africa. Each member of staff brings many years of teaching experience. Scroll down to get to know them a little better, or choose the appropriate section:

Leadership Team
Office Team
Elementary Team
Secondary Team

Leadership Team

Mr. Nicholas Schirmer

Ms. Hiroko Yoshida

Mr. Jordan Nogaki

TIS Role: Head of School

Mr. Schirmer was born in Dayton, Ohio, USA.
Mr. Schirmer majored in archeology at Western Washington University before being awarded his Masters in Leadership at the University of San Francisco. Before becoming the Head of School in 2019, Mr. Schirmer had taught at TIS since 2006.

In his free time, Mr. Schirmer enjoys baking, biking, and snowboarding.

A book he likes: The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton)
A movie he likes: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980)

TIS Role: Elementary and PYP Coordinator / EAL Coordinator

Ms. Yoshida was born in Niigata, Japan.
Ms. Yoshida majored in English Linguistics at Niigata University; TESL at the University of Alberta (Canada), and was awarded her Master of TEFL Degree at Brighton University (UK).
Ms. Yoshida has taught in various countries, including Japan, the U.A.E. and Great Britain. In addition to teaching both primary and middle schools, Ms. Yoshida also has experience teaching at the tertiary level. Arriving at TIS in 2018, Ms. Yoshida has taught at PYP schools since 2007 and is also an IBEN member. Ms. Yoshida delivers workshops and conducts consultations and school visits on behalf of the International Baccalaureate®.

Ms. Yoshida’s interests include yoga, drumming, ballet, ukulele, scuba-diving and snowboarding.

A book she likes: The Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger)
A movie she likes: French Kiss (Kasdan, 1995)

TIS Role: Secondary and DP Coordinator

Mr. Nogaki was born in Renton, Washington, USA.
Mr. Nogaki attended Waseda University in Tokyo, where he earned a Master’s Degree in International Relations. Of Japanese descent, Mr. Nogaki arrived in Japan in 2005. He began teaching at TIS in 2014.

Mr. Nogaki’s interests include D.I.Y. projects, History, Sports and Outdoor Activities.

A book he likes: Hondo (Louis L’Amour)
A movie he likes: 君の名は (Shinkai, 2016)
A food he likes: Oreo cookies

Office Team

Ms. Yukiko Kawaguchi

Ms. Sawako Iwamoto

Ms. Saeko Okuse

TIS Role: TIS Office Manager

Ms. Kawaguchi was born in Tokyo, Japan.
Prior to joining TIS in 2008, Ms. Kawaguchi worked in the international hotel industry.

In her free time, Ms. Kawaguchi enjoys cooking, reading and Rusie Dutton (Thai Yoga).

A book she likes: 楽園のカンヴァス(La Toile du paradis)(Maha Harada)
A movie she likes: 日々是好日 (Every Day a Good Day) (Omori, 2018)

TIS Role: TIS Office Staff

Ms. Iwamoto was born in Sendai, Japan. She began working at TIS in 2010.

In her free-time, Ms. Iwamoto enjoys playing the piano.

A book she likes: 人形の家 (Rumer Godden)
A movie she likes: Farinelli (Corbiau, 1994)

TIS Role: TIS Office Staff

Ms. Okuse was born in Hachinohe, Aomori. She began working at TIS in 2020.

Ms. Okuse was a gymnast, and – in her free-time – enjoys surfing, snowboarding and cooking.

A movie she likes: 50 First Dates (Segal, 2004)

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Elementary Team

Ms. Shannon Valente

Ms. Yu Towery

Mr. Vance Carlin

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TIS Role: Kindergarten teacher

Ms. Valente is from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.
In addition to her Bachelor of Education, Ms. Valente has studied Child Psychology. Before joining the TIS family, she worked in Canada, Bali and Russia. She takes a holistic approach to teaching; her goal is to create a comfortable and supportive learning environment in which all students have equal opportunity to learn.

In her free time, Ms. Valente enjoys life…!

A book she likes: The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle, 1997)
A movie she likes: Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001)
A quote she likes: “Only Kindness Matters”

TIS Role: Grade 1 / 2 Teacher

Ms. Towery was born in Sendai, Japan.
Ms. Towery majored in Education and ESL before being awarded her Master of Education.
Ms. Towery taught both elementary school and college in Texas, before joining the TIS family in 2018.

Ms. Towery’s interests include travelling and skiing.

A book she likes: Love You Forever (Robert Munsch)
A movie she likes: The Notebook (Cassavetes, 2004)
A quote she likes: “Don’t give up. I believe in you all. A person’s a person no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss

TIS Role: Grade 3/4 Teacher

Mr. Carlin is from Raglan, New Zealand.
Mr. Carlin was awarded a B.A in Sociology and Social Policy from Waikato University, New Zealand. After travelling and teaching, he returned to Waikato University to complete his Post Graduate Diploma in Primary School Education. Mr. Carlin has enjoyed travelling and teaching in Indonesia, Australia, Korea, Peru, Oman and, most recently, Russia.
Mr. Carlin loves all sports; Surfing and Volleyball in particular. In the future he hopes to complete a Master’s Degree and publish some short stories.

A book he likes: Papillon (Henri Charrière)
A movie he likes: Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)
A quote he likes: Its history. Its poetry. – J.D Salinger

Ms. Ali Gabrenya

Ms. Dianna Dawson

Mr. Henrik Hansson

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TIS Role: Grade 5/6 Teacher

Ms. Gabrenya is from Lexington, Massachusetts, USA.
She studied Environmental Science at Warren Wilson College and Science and Math Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Denver. Prior to arriving in Japan in 2020 to join the TIS family, Ms. Gabrenya taught in Denver, Colorado for seven years, which included Elementary Science & Engineering for the past five years.

Ms. Gabrenya’s interests include hiking, art, skiing and gardening.

A book she likes: Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)
A movie she likes: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Miyazaki, 1984)
A quote she likes: “We can do hard things.” – Glennon Doyle

TIS Role: Elementary Assistant Teacher

Ms. Dianna Dawson is from Melbourne, Australia.
Ms. Dawson has been awarded a Bachelor of Biological Sciences, and is currently studying for her Masters in Speech Pathology. Prior to joining the TIS family, Ms. Dawson worked as an ESL/Student Support Teaching Assistant in both Australia and South Korea.

In her free time, Ms. Dawson enjoys collecting miniatures.

A book she likes: Tomorrow When the War Began (series) (John Marsden)
A movie she likes: Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)

TIS Role: Music Teacher

Mr. Henrik Hansson is from Lönsboda, Sweden.
Mr. Hansson was awarded a Master’s Degree in Music Education from Malmö Academy of Music (Lund University), Sweden. Before moving to Sendai in 2014, Mr. Hansson lived in southern Sweden, teaching and playing music, and writing songs. He has also has spent a couple of years working in music production.

Mr. Hansson’s interests include vintage music-tech (analog synthesizers in particular), F1 racing, and watching documentaries.

A book he likes: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)
A movie he likes: Rush (Ron Howard, 2013)
A quote he likes: “The Blues is the truth.” – Willy Dixon

Ms. Justina Ikpe

Ms. Yuki Konno

Ms. Shoko Nogami

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TIS Role: Assistant Teacher

Ms. Ikpe is from Abia, Nigeria.

She attained her Bachelor of Education specialising in Education Management and English.

Prior to arriving at TIS, Ms. Ikpe spent seven years teaching Kindergarten, Elementary and Junior High School in Nigeria and Japan.

Ms. Ikpe’s interests include cooking and sports. She is especially fond of soccer.

A book she likes: The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)
A movie she likes: A World Apart (Chris Menges, 1988)
A quote she likes: “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

TIS Role: Japanese Teacher

Ms. Konno was born in Sendai, Japan.
Ms. Kono majored in Elementary Education / TESOL, and began her teaching career with the TIS Family in 2019.

Ms. Konno’s interests include doing yoga and playing volleyball.

A book she likes: カラフル(森絵都)(Eto Mori)
A movie she likes: Coco (リメンバーミ―)(Disney, 2017)

TIS Role: EAL & Japanese Assistant Teacher

Ms. Nogami was born in Kyoto, Japan.
Ms. Nogami majored in Sociology at Concordia University (Montreal).
Ms. Nogami has been teaching at TIS since 2015.

In her free-time, Ms. Nogami enjoys visiting shrines and temples.

A book she likes: Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery)
A movie she likes: The Tora San series (1969 – Present)

Ms. April Sekine

Ms. Aria Shimada

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TIS Role: Librarian / Elementary Support Teacher

Ms. Sekine grew up in Cupertino, California.
Ms. Sekine majored in Liberal Studies at San Jose State University.
Ms. Sekine began her career teaching at a language college, before enjoying being a stay-at-home mum. In 2009, Ms. Sekine became a member of the TIS Family.

Ms. Sekine’s interests include reading, crocheting, and sewing.

A book she likes: Penguin (Polly Dunbar)
A quote she likes: “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” – Maya Angelou

TIS Role: High School Math / Chemistry

Ms. Shimada is from Hong Kong.
She has attained her Bachelor of Chemistry and Humanities, Postgrad Hons. in Liberal Studies and Education, and Masters of Education

Prior to arriving at TIS, Ms. Shimada has taught Advanced-level / A-level Chemistry, middle years Science and college-level Liberal Studies.

Ms. Shimada’s interests include Hiking, Art, Skiing and Gardening.

A book she likes: A Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)
A movie she likes: Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)
A quote she likes: “Stay hungry; stay foolish.” – Steve Jobs

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Secondary Team

Mr. Joshua Bengtson

Mr. Zane Clifford

Mr. Jonathan Dawson

Get to know Mr. Bengtson Get to know Mr. Clifford Please check back later
TIS Role: Art Specialist / Secondary Japanese teacher

Mr. Bengtson was born in Akita, Japan.
Mr. Bengtson majored in Modern Art / Art Education at Tohoku Seikatsu Bunka University. He was a student at TIS for three years of high school…! Before returning to TIS as a teacher in 2015, he taught art at a public Japanese high school in Miyagi.

Mr. Bengtson’s interests include Oil Painting, Jomon Pottery, Hiking, Skiing, Rocks and Fossils.

A book he likes: 窓際のトットちゃん (Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window) (Tetsuko Kuroyanagi)
A movie he likes: キツツキと雨 (The Woodsman and the Rain) (Okita, 2011)

TIS Role: Secondary Math Teacher and IT Coordinator

Mr. Clifford was born in Durban, South Africa.
Mr. Clifford attended University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Pietermaritzburg, where he majored in Computer Science. Mr. Clifford arrived in Japan in 2011 as an ALT on the JET Programme. He began teaching at TIS in 2018.

Mr. Clifford’s interests include gaming, Go, working out and Aikido.

A book he likes: The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher)
A movie he likes: Inception (Nolan, 2010)
A quote he likes: “Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

TIS Role: High School Science Teacher

Mr. Dawson is from Melbourne, Australia.
His university studies were conducted in Conservation Biology and Ecology.
Mr. Dawson worked at a Go-Kart track before completing his teaching degree, after which he taught in Australia for 7 years. Following that, he taught in South Korea and Brazil, and has now – in 2021 – joined the TIS family.

Mr. Dawson’s interests include Gaming, Webtoons, Magic, Space, Girls’ Generation.

A book he likes: The Icewind Dale Trilogy (R.A. Salvatore)
A movie he likes: The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987)
A quote he likes: “Valar Morghulis Valar Dohaeris” – Jaqen H’ghar

Mr. Stephen Messano

Ms. Lies Van Keer

Mr. Chris Vassbotn

Get to know Mr. Messano Get to know Ms. Van Keer Get to know Mr. Vassbotn
TIS Role: Mathematics / Elementary & Secondary Music / Secondary Drama

Mr. Messano grew up in San Jose, California.
Mr. Messano received his Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Mathematics and Music at the University of California, Davis. He then attended San Jose State University to procure his California Teaching Credentials (K-12 Music and Secondary Mathematics). Prior to teaching at TIS, Mr. Messano taught high school and middle school in California and Japan. In 2003, he began his tenure at TIS.

In his free time, Mr. Messano enjoys Dungeons & Dragons, jazz music, murder-mystery parties, travelling, and spending quality time with friends.

A book he likes: The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander)
A movie he likes: The Dark Crystal (Henson, Oz, 1982)
A quote he likes: “This sentence no verb.”

TIS Role: Secondary Geography / History & P.E.H

Ms. Van Keer was born in Belgium, but considers Turner Valley, Alberta, Canada to be her hometown.
She attended the University of Lethbridge, where she majored in History, Social Studies and Music. Ms. Van Keer came to Japan with the JET Programme in 2009, and has taught English to all ages, from toddlers to adults. She joined TIS in March 2020.

Ms. Van Keer’s interests include steel pan, suzume odori, knitting and crocheting.

A book she likes: Any “Sherlock Holmes” story (Arthur Conan Doyle)
A movie she likes: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Stevenson, 1971)
A food she likes: Hawaiian pizza

TIS Role: HSC English + Geography & P.E.H

Mr. Vassbotn was born in North Bay, Ontario, Canada.
Mr. Vassbotn attended Ryerson University, Toronto, where he studied Film and Media studies. Mr. Vassbotn has fifteen years of international teaching experience in Mexico, Qatar, China and Japan. Before that, he taught Middle School in Canada for a couple of decades. This is Mr. Vassbotn’s sixth year at TIS.

Mr. Vassbotn’s interests include sports and music.

A book he likes: Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh)
A movie he likes: Almost Famous (Crowe, 2000)
A quote he likes: People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day. – Theodor Rosyfelt

Mr. Clayton Noel Wildy

Mr. Robert Zehmke

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TIS Role: EAL Specialist

Mr. Wildy was born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Mr. Wildy majored in Literature & Literacy at Griffith University (Nathan) and earned his post-graduate teaching degree in English & History (Sec.) at Griffith University (Kelvin Grove). He then received his TESOL qualification from Trinity College, London. Having taught Primary, Secondary and Tertiary, Mr. Wildy has been a teacher for 25 years. With regards to the deployment of meta-cognition in the classroom, Mr Wildy has been heavily involved in the professional development of secondary school educators. Mr. Wildy was thrilled to arrive at TIS in 2019.

Mr. Wildy is a film-maker and professional musician (vocalist and guitarist) who has appeared in TV, magazines and billboards.

A book he likes: Timequake (Kurt Vonnegut)
A movie he likes: Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
A quote he likes: What we think, we become. – The Buddha

TIS Role: Secondary English Teacher

Mr. Zehmke is from Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Mr. Zehmke has attained his BA in Languages and Cultures (English and Philosophy), Postgrad Hons. in Philosophy, and a Post Grad Cert. in Education. Before arriving at TIS, Mr. Zehmke taught at international schools in Asia for 11 years.

Mr. Zehmke is a poetry lover who enjoys Progressive Metal music, playing guitar, drawing, and exploration – both internally and externally.

A book he likes: Time Out of Joint (Philip K. Dick, 1959)
A movie he likes: Shoplifters (Klepto) (Thomas Trail, 2003)
A quote he likes: “There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” – Philip K. Dick

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