Like all good teachers, Toby Decker is changing the world one student at a time.
By the time you read this, he’ll be teaching English at an international high school in Abu Dhabi, which came after a year at the University of Atlántico in Barranquilla, Colombia. He’s not one to stay put; too many students to help in too many places.
“The best thing about teaching is seeing your students grow and meet their goals, and knowing you had some place in that student’s journey,” says Decker. “Whether it was a big or small contribution, you still got to be there to see them succeed.”
Decker’s journey began in Spanish class more than a decade ago.
“I loved learning a different culture and a different language,” he says.
After high school, he applied to different schools, but family events kept him closer to home, and he found himself attending TCC.
“At first, I was disappointed I didn’t get to go to California or the Pacific Northwest, but I found during my first semester at TCC that my professors were the very best I could’ve hoped for,” he says. “They were happy to mentor me. They were interested in learning themselves, which was something that took me aback.”
He took that encouragement and applied to TCC’s Honors program. There, he found more professors to push him and shape his career.
“They continuously pushed me to be a better student,” he says. “They collaborated with me on ways I could improve my professional portfolio. They gave me the time of day unlike I’ve experienced at any other place.”
Decker took his TCC experience to the University of Tulsa, and then to Teach for America where he taught at a school in Oklahoma City.
“One hundred percent of the school was immigrants to the U.S.,” says Decker. “There’s no one type of immigrant, no one way to be an immigrant. They come from all parts of the world. They come with lots of money, or with no money.
“I was fascinated when they all converged at this high school by how much love and appreciation and fun you could have in a classroom with students from all over the world with such different backgrounds.”
The experience inspired him to apply for a Fulbright scholarship, which he received, to teach English in Colombia. He wanted to teach at a university, and the opportunity to return to a Spanish-speaking country.
“I also wanted to return to a part of Latin America where there was a strong literary history,” says Decker. “Plus, it was during the time when peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). It was an exciting time to be a visitor.”
As he finished his time in Barranquilla, he began looking for his next stop. He wanted to continue to teach English to non-English speakers, so he applied to schools in Asia, Africa and Europe. Abu Dhabi rose to the top. That decision made, he knew he’d have a couple months of downtime in Tulsa. He applied for an internship with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, and ended up working at the Guthrie Green.
“It’s been interesting. I’ve learned about event planning for communities of different backgrounds,” says Decker. “I’ve learned more about education, but from a parks perspective. It’s broadened my perspective about the types of programming you can provide for children and families.”
It’s more knowledge he’ll put to use the next two years in the United Arab Emirates, and wherever he decides to go after that.
“My experiences have inspired me to continue teaching in different places in the world so I can continue to grow as an educator and connect with students from any number of backgrounds,” he says. “I really responded well to being in a different environment, and I’ve continued to do that to challenge myself and see where I could end up.”