Kai Esaki: 'To see our students’ achievements and to be recognized is really satisfying'
Civics, Economics, Geography, US History, World History
Seaside High School
Kai Esaki is passionate about giving back to his community. Before he even began teaching, he found himself coaching the water polo team at Monterey High School 12 years ago. Becoming a teacher was not intentional as he had his eyes set on law school, but since he enjoyed coaching so much he felt the natural transition would be to bring the “coaching” into the classroom. Today Kai still coaches water polo at Monterey High, while teaching full-time at cross bay “rival” Seaside High School.
He has a long history in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District beginning as a student at Del Rey Woods Elementary, La Mesa Elementary, Walter Colton Middle School and graduating from Monterey High School. His love of teaching stemmed from his parents, who were both teachers in MPUSD. While Kai grew up in Seaside, he became a fixture on the Monterey High campus while his dad was teaching and overseeing athletic events.
Kai began student teaching in 2011 at Seaside High, and by 2012 was teaching multiple grade levels and classes including Opportunity, 21st Century Skills, Scholar Athlete, AP Human Geography, World History, Geography, US History, AP US History, Civics, and Economics. He is one of the few MPUSD teachers to teach dual enrollment classes to high school students via Monterey Peninsula College. Typically it is MPC instructors who teach our students, but Kai teaches US History, specifically History 17 and History 18.
Teaching during a global pandemic was not easy; however, Kai was able to effectively engage his students so deeply that every single one of them had their cameras on and ready to learn during Zoom Distance Learning classes. When asked how he was able to accomplish this, he says, “Mutual respect.” Kai shared with his students that he feeds off what they are doing and he is a much better teacher when he can read the classroom. “I was very honest with them and shared that if I can’t see them, then it is almost useless for me to do what I am doing because I get satisfaction from watching their expressions.” He also credited a social contract and a strong rapport with students. “Essentially I have imparted to them that everything I do is thought out and critically important for me to work hard and relay the information across to you. It’s about reciprocity - if I am going to help you, then you can do that for me (turn on your cameras) for a small portion of the class time.”
Kai takes pride in holding students to high expectations. “When I teach, I grade them hard and when I coach, I coach them hard,” he said. “I try to hold them to the highest standard that is available.” Simultaneously, he combines the high expectations with growth, and shares, “Growth is the most important thing for me … I want to ensure they are progressing in some way.” He allows his students to assess his teaching at the end of the year, and many students agree that Mr. Esaki holds them accountable. Their voices are reflected in the question prompt: what did you learn this year? “To take accountability and to keep going no matter how hard it is,” “One thing I'll take from this class is to always hold myself accountable no matter what,” and “The most important thing I learned in class was to be resilient with all the deadlines and not get overwhelmed, and just take things one step at a time.”
For many students at Seaside High, they may be the first to graduate high school. Kai shares, “This is the community I come from and to see our students’ achievements and to be recognized is really satisfying.” To know his students have achieved a goal and know there is so much more on their horizon brings him joy. “The best part of every year is graduation.” What’s even more rewarding and to know he played a role in shaping students’ lives is to watch vicariously through his students their success. He even has students who have gone on to earn master's degrees and he can vividly remember seeing them on the first day in his classroom. “It’s so rewarding to see my contributions and then to see my students’ contributions. This is what makes teaching so worthwhile,” he says.
A graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (bachelor’s degree) and San Francisco State University (master’s degree), Kai earned his teaching credential from California State University Monterey Bay.