Karisse Sakahara is so at home in the classroom that it might be surprising to learn that academics isn’t her first career. Prior to teaching – now for a decade, with five years at Punahou – the third-grade teacher thrived in the fast-paced world of news for nearly 15 years. After graduating from Santa Clara University with a degree in communications and a minor in dance, Sakahara began a career in TV journalism as a morning news producer in California’s dynamic Bay Area, then onto Oregon, Oklahoma and Sacramento. A move back home to Hawai‘i began an unexpected transition to teaching, while taking a break to raise a family with husband Tim, a fellow news and communications professional. She now brings the same energy and planning that went into producing engaging, informative newscasts for the public into presenting lessons to her third grade students.
Before you became a teacher, you got your start in journalism. What was that like?
I started as an intern on the teleprompter for a 5 a.m. morning news show in San Jose, back in the day when you’re literally feeding carbon copies through a conveyor belt. Everyone goes into broadcast news thinking they’re going be an anchor, on camera, but what was more appealing to me was the writing part of it, gathering and disseminating the news, and the choices that go into putting together a daily newscast.
What memorable news did you cover?
9/11. That was life-altering, and I remember it vividly. Tim called to wake me before my typical morning assignment meeting. I remember sitting there in shock on that Tuesday and just working around the clock until the following Sunday. It was exhausting and taxing emotionally, because as a producer, you’re filtering a lot of stuff.
After a high intensity job as a news producer, how did you get into teaching?
I was taking some time off before the birth of our daughter, after we had moved back to Hawai‘i, where I’m from. Our son was going into elementary school. I had covered education and I now had time to do something in a school setting, so I started volunteering at his school. I really loved being at the school. Eventually, I applied for a master’s in education at UH Ma¯noa, got in and jumped in feet first. When people hear that I left news, they might think, where’s the logic in that, but my life in news really set me up to be the kind of teacher I am today.
What role does your previous career in news play in the classroom?
I see every day in front of the kids as producing a newscast. It’s just longer, the audience is a little younger, it’s live, but it’s a production of sorts. I can see the script, the rundown of my day as if it’s a rundown for 30-minute or hour-long newscasts. It’s very much how a live newscast would unfold. I’m always watching the clock, thinking what I need to cut from here or add there. How am I going to move and shift things for my ‘commercial breaks’ – recess, lunch, snack. When I introduce something, it is like a show open. I think about how I’m going to deliver visuals or graphics. How am I going to engage them and get their attention right off the top? I really do feel like my life as a producer set me up for the way I approach teaching. My goal is always to engage, inform and generate a buzz around what we’re learning.
Speaking of the news, your son Shea ’23 was featured on the cover of The Hawai‘i Herald, Hawai‘i’s Japanese American Journal, last August, and your daughter Makena ’25 self-published a book of poetry. Can you talk about your children?
My son Shea was born with cerebral palsy. He had to really work through a lot of challenges when he was younger, but he’s resilient, confident and definitely my source of inspiration. His determination has led him to learn to play baseball with one hand. In sixth grade, he founded Strong Start 4 Kids through the Luke Center for Public Service, a project to raise donations of school supplies for children in need.
Makena is my writer. She has been a wordsmith from the time she could write. She never ceases to amaze me and touch me with her words. Her book is a collection of 80 poems. It was something she wanted to do, she did it herself and we’re so proud of her.
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