MNPS Voices: Bill Hollaway

Bill "Ralph" Hollaway, SIFE Instructor, Glencliff High School
Posted on 11/12/2021
Portrait of Ralph Hollaway

This week’s #MNPSVoices honoree is one of the most inspiring, experienced, and successful teachers in MNPS: Bill Hollaway, also known in the district as “Ralph.”

His incredible life experience and educational background have prepared him for his career in Metro Schools as an English Learners teacher in the program for Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) at Glencliff High School.

Portrait of Ralph Holloway Born in Arkansas and starting out life with his mother and older brother while his father was in the U.S. Army in Europe, Hollaway says his first clear memory was living in Texas, where his parents were preparing for an international Christian church-related assignment, which led to his family moving to Tokyo when he was 5.

“Japan became my home until I was 16, with a year of Japanese kindergarten followed by elementary school, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense and then seventh through 10th grades at the American School in Japan,” Hollaway said.

He believes those 11 years justified his classification as what some people refer to now as a “third-culture kid,” mixing American and Japanese traits into his own personality.

“It was a unique place for an American boy to discover the world, including events like the discovery of undetonated American bombs in the construction site for our home being built in the industrial city of Nagoya,” he said.

The intercultural and international interests stuck with Hollaway. As he returned to Arkansas, he completed his university studies and accepted an offer for his first high school English teaching job at Ganado Public Schools in Navajo tribal territory in northern Arizona.

“Students there were all native Navajo speakers, so I was thrown right into the English as a Second Language world long before EL departments or WIDA assessments were around in U.S. schools,” he said.

Sometime later, Hollaway completed a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and moved back to Japan to accept a posting at a local university as a Freshman English teacher.

“The Japan assignment was followed by work back in the U.S., an unexpected but fascinating assignment to Rabat, Morocco, with classes at Mohammed V University there, and then a lengthier engagement back in my second home, Japan, where we managed and I taught English at a community cultural center for several years,” Hollaway said.

In the 1980s he returned to the U.S., where he first partnered with a consulting group to support Motorola and Procter & Gamble in their Japan operations. However, he began a search for an opportunity where he might continue to be a part of an international community in the U.S. – but not too far out of his American element.

Nashville fit the bill, particularly with substantial Japanese business investment flowing into Tennessee and the bonus of some family living here.

Hollaway’s teaching career turned corporate, and he managed to find clients for cross-cultural training and consulting and partnerships in the international community, allowing him to enjoy work with the likes of Nissan, Bridgestone, Sumitomo, Denso, and many others, including training for the Vanderbilt Japan Center. The most fun and long-lasting client was Arkansas farmers producing proprietary non-GMO soybeans for a specific Japanese food product. Giving them cross-cultural and language support allowed him to visit customers in Japan two or three times a year over a period of about 20 years.

“And then came my return to public school teaching,” Hollaway said. “Changes in the global economy, maturation of Japanese operations in the U.S. making companies more self-sufficient, and thinking I might be able to settle in to the local community with a late-career move back to my academic roots inspired a job search focused on my ESL teaching credentials, which led to an overnight offer from the Lebanon Special School District to join their EL team – which turned into an eight-year opportunity to renew myself in the classroom in the small-town and intimate professional environment.”

However, in 2015, Hollaway’s wife’s heavy work schedule in Nashville and constant commuting from east of the city became an incentive for him to explore EL-related opportunities with Metro schools. He found it in the district’s burgeoning SIFE program, which helps students who have come to the United States with significant gaps in their education and little or no knowledge of the English language.

“MNPS’s EL Office was right at the stage of expanding the SIFE program into some high schools, and one of them was not yet staffed. A quickly arranged interview brought what now feels like the offer of my life: the chance to use every bit of training and experience I’d ever had, to work in the most challenging job I’d ever known, to have the most supportive and professional leadership team and most helpful colleagues I have ever worked with, along with the possibility of having some influence for good among hundreds of students from around the world, all looking for a better life here in our city,” Hollaway said.

“Glencliff High School was the epicenter of the ‘real deal’ in EL work in Metro, and they have been kind enough to let me do what I can to bring value to the students and the school for these last six years. The EL Office asked me to be the SIFE groundbreaker at Glencliff, and we have developed into a four-teacher team there, supported by two multilingual tutors and several community volunteers.”

For Hollaway, although it’s not unusual for a teacher anywhere in Metro, he still is amazed he has had students from Iraq, Tanzania, Yemen, Honduras, Thailand, Guatemala, Eritrea, El Salvador, Rwanda, Mexico, the Republic of Congo, and other countries looking to him to be a part of building their future.

Outside of his extremely hectic teaching schedule, Hollaway spends his time with his musician wife, sharing concerts and recitals and beautiful liturgical worship here in Music City. And they have 10 grandchildren (and a great-grandchild) to try to keep up with.

“Life is full,” Hollaway says.


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