It was in 9th grade that Karl Gapuz (BA '16, MIT ’17) knew he wanted to be a teacher. As a tutor for Team Read in Seattle, he served as a reading coach for elementary school students, many of whom shared the challenges he faced growing up as an English language learner.
In supporting those students, mostly from low-income families of color like himself, Gapuz discovered the joys of teaching.
Now a 5th-grade teacher at Rising Star Elementary in Seattle’s diverse Beacon Hill neighborhood, Gapuz is continuing to provide young learners with tools to achieve bright futures. At the same time, he is supporting aspiring teachers as a co-mentor in the Seattle Teacher Residency.
Finding a path
After completing his bachelor’s degree in early childhood and family studies at the University of Washington, Gapuz knew he wanted to give back to the city where he was born and raised.
The Seattle Teacher Residency, which prepares teacher candidates to teach in Seattle Public Schools after graduation, was the perfect fit.
At Rising Star Elementary, where Gapuz teaches reading concurrently with social studies, he focuses on cultivating understanding and conversations about history and current events to help students shape their identities as future citizens.
Gapuz noted that his 5th-grade students are highly perceptive, which he taps into as he introduces them to topics related to civil rights and social justice. "They’re a lot more willing to understand and reflect upon their own identities. Partially, it’s the crafting of their own identities."
An important part of his work is to help students understand "things that are unjust and unfair in the world,” he said, and at the same time, give them tools to be advocates for their neighbors and others around them.
Seeing the connections
Gapuz said the Seattle Teacher Residency prepared him to recognize the needs of his students and take them into account in every lesson plan. Its social-justice approach, he added, also "keeps you accountable in making sure you’re checking yourself and understanding your own identity when it comes to being in the classroom.”
For Gapuz, that includes understanding what it means to be a low income, second-generation Filipino living in Seattle and how those identities impact his teaching, especially teaching kids who look like him.
"I have Filipino kids in my classroom. I have kids that have gone through some pretty similar traumas that I had growing up," he said.
"Although I can think of [them] as negative experiences, I can think of them also as assets. Like, ‘Hey, I have a lot to bring to the table.’ Because I've had these experiences, I can connect with these kids on a lot better of a basis than other folks."
Forging meaningful relationships with students is something he continues to reflect upon in his teaching practice. It involves asking: "How am I understanding what they're going through not only at home but also in different situations so that I can meet them where they are and support them moving forward?"
Giving back to the teaching community
Above and beyond his own teaching responsibilities, Gapuz is giving back to the Seattle Teacher Residency.
That work included helping one of the program’s teacher candidates develop a reading curriculum focused on activism throughout the last school year. Together, they went over the structure of a reading lesson and discussed ways to engage students with the content and reading aloud.
Supporting and sharing his knowledge with future teachers, Gapuz said, is one of the best ways to support his own students as well.
“I am not going to be the best teacher if I am closing my door, doing everything that I can just on my own,” he added. “I need to make sure that I am learning and refreshing my teaching strategies.”
Story by Tracy Dinh, marketing and communications student aide.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications