Katherine Porter Nurtures Her Family and Community With Kindness


Megan Murphy, Contributor

Standing before a class full of juniors and seniors, she finds herself constantly hiding her laughter at inappropriate jokes that her students always make. Her curly, light brown hair, and smile with faint dimples, instill comfort in the people she meets, and encourages trust from her students. When speaking to her, it is easy to grasp her love for others, even her pets, but more importantly, her family and students. Her patience with students, and encouragement in their work, is what demonstrates her underlying want to always help others.

Growing up, everyone around her was a teacher, and because of this, she made the decision that she would never be a teacher. After trying on many different types of hats, from swim instructor, to law firm receptionist, to even dorm janitor, Porter realized teaching was “the only thing that [she] wanted to do.”

Because her mom, Molly Pikkarainen, was a teacher, she signed Porter up for all different kinds of after school activities in her childhood. She participated in many things, like playing in her school band, ballet, cooking classes, and soccer. With all of these, the majority of her time was left to swimming and water polo. She played the majority of these sports with her sister, and even though they were “enemies,” the time spent together is what allowed them to create the relationship that they have with one another.

Porter began her education at UC Davis and got her undergraduate degree in human development. After this, she moved to Seattle for a new scene and for new opportunities with her recent degree, but two years had passed and she had the realization that she wanted to come back home. She then got her teaching credential for special education at Sacramento State.

Porter applied for several jobs and received her first job for a class of students with emotional disturbance. Even with experience as a student teacher, and years of schooling, Porter believed this job required a different kind of involvement with students. “It was a very hard job and I felt very unprepared…it threw a major curve ball for me.” With the difficulties, she found help from instructional aids. She realized that with their training, they were people she would be able to rely on for help. “People don’t know the value of what our instructional aids offer.”

Kathrine Porter would commonly be described as an energetic presence for those who know her on campus. Upon sitting in one of her classes, you would notice Porter sitting with students individually to help them with the work that needed to be done. Porter’s main goal in a classroom is to engage the students to get their work done, and this can be done through more than just discussing school work. “I love when in class, we work our brains to a pulp, then make space to talk about life. We review that school is not just about the academic content learned, but it is also a 13-year learning curve to improve time management skills, to meet deadlines, to grow self discipline, to engage in less preferred activities, and also to find joy/curiosity about the world around you.”

Entering her classroom, you will find many different kinds of objects or fidgets for students to twiddle between their fingers. She provides a fun and playful classroom setting, displaying lights, lamps, and artwork from past or current students. The classroom environment she creates for those in her class allows for not only work to be done, but also for trust and curiosity to be explored.

Her current subject she teaches at San Rafael High is a class called Learning Lab. In this, students from general education are offered support for their academic classes. She works with a variety of students, including some who have IEPs or 504s.

“Before Learning lab, I was unable to get any of my work done. Now I have somewhere to do it with an extra push,” Alison French said. Alison has had Ms. Porter for several years of her high school career. She described Kathrine as an “encouraging and optimistic teacher who the class can really be themselves with.” While at times, Porter is forced to put on a more serious front to really push her students to complete their assignments, her students still seem to wear a smile into and out of her classroom.

Working at San Rafael High School has not only given Katherine Porter the option to develop strong relationships and connections with the students, but also has given her the opportunity to work with her sister Gwen Pikkarainen.

Ms. Pikkarainen is a teacher in the science department at San Rafael High, and loves to spend time with her sister, “Every day I am at school, knowing that my actual real life sister is just two buildings away fills my bucket.” They regularly identify each other as their best friends. Every morning they ride their bikes together from Fairfax to school, and at school, they manage to find some time in their day to send each other small presents. “She is so patient and observant and really just wants people around her to feel good and heard and cared for and noticed. She is a great shoulder for people to lean on.”

Gwen also noted that she has several different list systems and sticky notes to keep track of her time, “she is trying to keep track of not just her own life but other people’s needs as well.”

Outside of work, Porter commonly spends her time with her family. On weekends, she takes her two children to sporting events of their own or even games for San Rafael High. After everyone at home falls asleep, she finds herself cozied up on the couch watching any type of medical drama in her pajamas.

Kathrine Porter is a mother of two athletic, musical, and energetic boys, and has a strong love for her two cats and bearded dragon. She endlessly cares for her family and always finds ways to demonstrate her love to them. As an educator, her sister Gwen, describes her as a “patient, kind, focused, intelligent, and organized special education teacher.” Her students trust and care for her as more than just a teacher, but as a role model in their lives.

Porter is able to connect to her students on a personal level past student and teacher, and this has allowed her to really make a difference.