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Katrina Tupper believes that you can find adventure in everything. Her sense of adventure and gusto in living life, overcoming fears, and making choices is what led her to a career of teaching English Language Development (ELD) at Highlands Community Charter School.
A Sacramento native with a close family, Katrina’s parents have always been supportive of her and her sister.
“My parents…they just gave me everything I needed. My mom was a 3rd grade teacher, and my dad made cabinets. We were not rich in a money sense, but in emotional stability, we were,” Katrina said.
Katrina’s parents always allowed her to make her own decisions and would encourage her to reflect upon her experiences. When something didn’t turn out quite right, they would react in a calm, loving manner replying with something like, “That’s interesting. How’d that work out?”
From that, a fearless spirit was born and has influenced Katrina’s life ever since.
Although Katrina hails from a family of teachers, she had originally planned on becoming a journalist. In fact, she went to Sacramento State and majored in Journalism with a minor in Spanish. Fortunately, fate stepped in and put her on a different path.
In one of Katrina’s Spanish classes, she met Dorene Bratten-Humphers, another ELD instructor at Highlands. Dorene was minoring in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and would be the first person to introduce Katrina to the idea of teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) as a career.
Dorene would not only become one of Katrina’s biggest influences in the field of education, but a person that Katrina considers to be like a second mom, her “mamacita.” In 2012, Katrina and Dorene traveled to Honduras together and taught English.
“I didn’t know how to teach English at all, but just watching Dorene was amazing, even today watching her in a classroom is unbelievable – I swear,” Katrina said. “What I learned from her the most is humility and that nothing is NOT worth the time. Dorene teaches something, and then goes around the room looks everyone in the face, checks in with each individual person, and makes sure that every student has gotten it before she moves on.”
Once Katrina realized that teaching English to second language learners was a career option, she decided to move to Germany and get her Master’s in Linguistics. Katrina knew this would be difficult and daunting, but she also firmly believes that if something scares you, you should do it.
Once she received her admission letter to the University of Freiburg, she applied to an international school in San Francisco to acquire her preliminary credential, which would allow her to teach English while studying in Germany.
“We had this crazy Hungarian teacher – she walked in the first day of class and started just speaking to us all in Hungarian. She was mean, but she was good. She knew her stuff,” Katrina said. “At the end of the class that day, we could all say basic phrases in Hungarian, and she hadn’t said a word in English to explain it.”
The truth is, that’s what it feels like to be in an English class as a language learner, Katrina said, and being put in that position made me see things from a different perspective.
“In that class, I learned to not take things personally as a teacher. You can’t let students’ confusion make you uncomfortable. You know you’re a good teacher – you’re capable of teaching them. So you explain, you show pictures, and you keep going,” Katrina said.
Katrina also learned from her own parents if you show genuine love, care, and concern for people, they always figure it out. Katrina admits that she takes the same approach in her classroom. Good teachers stand out, Katrina explained, because they express care for the individuals that they are teaching explicitly.
“I know my students. I know who they are, where they’re from, and where they want to go. We have a classroom family and everyone’s well-being is important,” Katrina said. “A student once said to me that I teach English in my class, but I teach much more. She said that I teach people how to be together, and I still think that is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me.”
Katrina has taught English to German business professionals, children in after-school programs, teenagers in international travel programs, and international college students at Sacramento State.
“I lived a very comfortable childhood, but I figured out that I had to do things that scare me,” Katrina said. “I used to be afraid of everything. I was the kid crying when there were thunderstorms, but as an adult I realized how much that fear crippled me.”
To do great things, one must exit their comfort zone, and Katrina has done that over and over again living out her adventure daily. She moved to Germany for two years when every inch of her said staying close to home would be easier and more comfortable. She hiked 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago alone when all of her best judgement said it was dangerous and risky.
“Break the boundary, and make the impossible possible for you,” she said. “It’s worth it every time.”