Living with curiosity: a teacher’s story

Kristina Katrel has traveled a unique path to pursue her interests and find her community


Josie Fitzpatrick

Katrel followed a path of persistence and ambition to explore her interests and find the right community. After high school, she attended six different universities both in and out of the United States.

Marley Helfer, Copy Editor

She has a love for reading and writing, so much so that she was kicked out of her language arts class in high school for reading too much. In high school, she wrote a novel a month for her friend and essays on random Russian poets. She was a multi-sport athlete, with gymnastics at the center of her interests. 

Behind the energetic and passionate English Language Arts teacher, Kristina Katrel’s story is one that not many students are familiar with. Katrel followed a path of persistence and ambition to explore her interests and find the right community. 

From her childhood to life after high school, Katrel’s world was marked by travel. 

After growing up in the deep South, Katrel moved to Eastern Washington for high school. 

“I would say that my childhood feels like it was Eastern Washington,” Katrel said. “[It was] unique because it’s a nuclear town where there’s a lot of very, very clever people, even though it’s a very small town.”

For Katrel, athletics were a large part of her identity growing up. Katrel was a diver, a gymnast and a runner for cross-country, ending up competing in the 100-meter high hurdles for college. 

“I was absolutely a sports nerd,” she said. “I don’t play any team sports because I don’t like to share and I really don’t like to let people down, so I only did individual sports.”

While her athletics had shaped her journey, it was another passion that would ultimately influence her path.

“It’s probably not surprising that I loved to write and read,” she said. 

However, her path through high school wasn’t perfect, she shared. 

“I was a terrible high school student, I mean, really terrible,” she said. “I would spend a lot of time looking out the window and drawing and writing … I had one teacher, my favorite teacher, who threw a book at my head once and said ‘get out and read, stop reading in my room!’”

This actually allowed her to explore her interests even more, giving her an outlet to read and write.

“He just gave in and would give me a [bag] full of [books] and make me sit outside and read so that I didn’t ruin his class,” Katrel said.

After high school, Katrel attended six different universities both inside and outside of the United States in an effort to find the right community. 

“I had this very dreamy notion of being transported by this world of education and knowledge, but it just ended up feeling like high school,” she said. 

After attending schools that weren’t the right fit for her, she would finally find her community abroad in England.

“People were silly and engaging,” Katrel said. “[They] were living a big life where people traveled and talked about really cool ideas, but weren’t afraid of individual education.”

In addition to lifestyle differences, Katrel also appreciated how England gave her the opportunity to learn in ways that suited her academic style. 

“It was essentially an independent study, which is all I wanted to do,” she said. “I didn’t want to be told what to learn and do anymore. I wanted to do it on my own.”

Katrel lived in England during her 20s, with a short period spent in Singapore.

“I ended up working for an overseas family school for two years in the middle school there,” she said. “It was so much fun … Every kid in Singapore from all over the world was at the school. You’d have assemblies where you were celebrating like a thousand different cultures.”

From England to Singapore, Katrel’s experiences have shaped her perspectives and understanding of culture. 

“She brings this amazing wealth of knowledge [from] different experiences, [and] from her various places of work,” Kristin Storey,  English Language Arts teacher and department head, said.

After her time in England, she felt the need for a change. Katrel sought to return to her activities and interests that weren’t able to thrive in England. 

“You can’t hike in England,” she said. “There’s nowhere to ride your bike, there’s nowhere to swim, there’s nowhere even to really run unless you’re running in the city and then you get black congestion up your nose.”

In addition to the limitations she faced with athletics, Katrel felt that English culture generally wasn’t the right fit. 

“English girls wanted to smoke and shop and talk about interior magazines, and I just wanted to do sports and talk about books,” she said. 

Because of connections through family and friends from high school, Katrel decided to move to the Pacific Northwest.

“I did triathlons, I met up with friends now who write poetry and go running, and I feel much more like my normal self,” Katrel said.

Although she would eventually end up at Ballard, Katrel initially moved to Bellevue. 

Now a teacher at BHS, Katrel has developed new perspectives on teaching, all of which are symbolic of her compassion for her students. 

“As I’ve gotten older and as my children have grown, I think high school is so much more about belonging and creating a feeling of safety and community,” she said. “We don’t need to push kids in this rat race anymore. Maybe we can just have fun and have a good time learning.”

She is currently writing a novel and working on a poetry collection, continuing to pursue her love for writing.

Katrel has made her way to Ballard, bringing with her a lifetime of travel, change and deep care for her students. 

“I wish that students understood,” she said. “We are not the general of the army, we are on the front lines with them.”

 Finding the right community took time. For students, Katrel represents someone who wasn’t afraid to take the next step into life and live with ambition. 

“[Adults make students] think there’s some sort of magical life starting point,” she said. “You don’t need to justify what you’re doing… this is life… start living life now.”