Educator Spotlight: Meet Karalee Nakatsuka
California middle school teacher gives joy, big energy to history students
This story is part of a series that celebrates Teacher Appreciation Month. Each day in May, we will introduce to you an outstanding educator within the Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
On a late, late Tuesday night in March, Karalee Nakatsuka sat in her living room in Los Angeles and fumbled with a camera for what seemed like hours.
Her family was fast asleep, the neighborhood was still, but Karalee was missing her students. At the time, remote learning was new to all of us – no one knew what to expect or how to react – so Karalee did what felt right. She put on a cute T-shirt, and she made a video for her class.
“My whole concern when we first went into remote learning wasn’t about the content,” says Karalee, an eighth-grade history teacher in Arcadia, California. “It was about keeping in touch with my students. And so on our first day, I wrote a little note to them, I made this whole Flipgrid, and I responded to every single video.
“And, you know eighth graders, they’re so reticent, I don’t know what they’re doing, I don’t know if they’re looking at my videos. I just wanted to connect with them!”
If there is anything we can be sure of during this uncertain time, it is that Karalee is one of the most memorable, endearing teachers you will ever meet, and her students were indeed missing her very, very much.
Videos to Stay in Touch
Karalee has been teaching U.S. history at the same school in Arcadia, Calif., for 30 years, but you wouldn’t know it. She is a firecracker hankering to learn and ready to chat. Over the past few years, she has embraced change and growth and technology more than ever before, and she’s a delight to be near.
“I’m the old history teacher who could totally just be passing the worksheets by now,” Karalee admits. “I probably had some teacher midlife crisis or whatever, but instead of embalming or sinking, our district went one-to-one Chromebooks, and we became the classroom of the future!”
Karalee began participating in trainings that helped adapt to new technology, and it was there she met Lucretia Anton, her “Flipgrid Swag Fairy” who introduced to her a new platform to bring into the classroom.
“We’re years apart, just in the same place heart-wise, and she’s my go-to person,” Karalee says. “Eventually I became certified and Lucretia started encouraging me to present, so now, I always share Flipgrid with everything I do, because I do Flipgrid with everything I do.”
While in remote learning, Karalee has been creating weekly videos for her students that cover everything from cupcakes a student made at home to current events.
“I want to reassure my students that we’re ok, and I want to remind them to be safe,” Karalee says. “I don’t know if they’re paying attention to the news, so I talk about what’s happening with the COVID-19 crisis, then I talk about what’s happening in our district, and preview what we’re going to be doing in the classroom, too. Flipgrid has just been such a cool way for us to stay connected.”
Taking on Anything New for the Kids
Both during remote learning and in the classroom, Karalee has taken on technology to steer her love for history.
She’ll visit infamous historical sites to take her kids on virtual field trips, or she’ll sit in front of a green screen to talk about Monticello, slavery or impeachment. All with the same joy in her voice she had when she learned it first herself.
She has so much passion and cares so deeply and just wants to give it all away to her students, in any way she can.
“I think I’m like Thomas Jefferson,” Karalee says. “He wasn’t an inventor, he was an adaptor. So all this stuff on Twitter and with technology, I can adapt! Technology is such a pain, but it’s also a road to connect with students, to help them be better people and to see that learning is cool, right? If I can do this, anyone can do this!”
Her joy fills you up and fills the void during remote learning and always.
“We teach history because we want to raise up good citizens,” Karalee says. “We want kids who care, kids who are going to make a difference and give to their community, and I think Flipgrid is a great way to give students that voice so they know that matters.
“Caring for kids matters, and so I try. I’m going to keep making videos and doing four Zoom calls a week, because these kids are so important to me. I’ll do anything for them.”