MY HONOLULU: Demanding, Blunt and Still My Favorite Teacher

A shout-out to Richard Kiyonaga in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story was first published in the May 2014 issue of HONOLULU Magazine.


Everyone’s got a favorite teacher. Mine is Richard Kiyonaga. I was among his students when he taught social studies in the 1970s and ’80s at Kalāheo High School in Kailua. I was fortunate to have quite a few good teachers, but in my years at Kalāheo, Mr. K stood out because of his mix of candor and kindness. He could be demanding yet empathetic, funny, smart and self-deprecating. And blunt. You knew he really wanted you to get it right and he’d call you out for doing any less than your best work.


Mr. K taught AP U.S. History, but he also taught me how to think critically, and why skepticism is better than cynicism. He didn’t stereotype students as good or bad, smart or not. He brushed aside so-so efforts that won praise from other adults. He got his students to dig deeper. He also gave students a chance to prove themselves whether you walked into his classroom with a reputation as distinguished or disaffected.


I reconnected with Mr. K in 2014 when the HONOLULU Magazine team was working on the annual Grading the Public Schools issue as well as a feature story exploring how tech tools are changing the way students are taught.


SEE ALSO: New Online Data Tools Changing the Way Hawai‘i’s Public School Students Learn


It was great to see him again after so many years, but we quickly ended up deep in a more layered discussion than I first expected. It turned out he’s not a big fan of ranking schools against each other. “Any attempt to compare them is inherently flawed,” he says. He’d prefer to grade schools based on how the students at a single school do on a test given each year for five years. “One size doesn’t fit all.”


I’m glad I got a chance to thank Mr. K for nurturing my love of history and writing. And he told me he’s pleased to follow my work as a writer. “Teaching is a very noble profession,” Mr. K says. “Your rewards come from outside of you.” And I couldn’t help noticing that he was still pushing me to think deeper, ask more questions. I realized one of the things that made him stand out among many inspiring teachers was that he also taught me that the things that mean the most in life often are the most complicated. I hear that he retired, so here’s hoping he’s getting to do whatever inspires him after all those years of kick-starting the rest of us.


Thanks to Mr. K and all our inspiring teachers, this week and all through the year.


In 2014, we asked readers to use the popular Twitter hashtag so they could give a shout out to their favorite teacher. They tagged @honolulumag when using the hashtag #thankateacher. See who our readers thanked in 2014!