Prince: Hello and Good Afternoon Mr. Tanaka, how are you?
MT: I’m doing well Prince, how are you?
Prince: I’m doing well. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit with me; so, my audience and I can get to know you more.
MT: No problem; thanks for having me.
Prince: Great! Let’s first start off the conversation by talking about you. Tell me your background, where you are from, education background, etc. or anything else that you wish to start off with.
MT: Well I was born in Honolulu, [Hawaii]. When I was 7, I moved to Coronado. I went to all the Coronado schools—from second grade all the way to 12th grade. After graduating from High School in 1994, I went to UCSD. My degree from UCSD was a distinction in History, with a minor in Political Science. After graduating from UCSD in 1997, I went back to the Coronado schools—first as a student teacher; substitute teacher; then finally a full-time history teacher in 1999. And I’ve been teaching AP U.S History, Government and U.S. history for 14 years.
Prince: Wow for 14 years; and you still look good. You haven’t aged a bit (laughter).
MT: Thanks. (laughter)
Prince: So, How did you get into politics—especially Coronado politics?
MT: Well I always followed Coronado politics—even as a little kid. I would read the local paper and see who’s on the city council; things like that. It was my observation that usually the people who win elections in Coronado are people who have lived here their whole lives. So in the back of my head, I knew that I would someday run for city council, school board or something like that. And when I was 24 years old, I remembered that there was a little notice in the paper saying that “the last day to file paperwork—to run for city council—was in a couple of days.” The story that I like to tell is how I seized the opportunity–to run for city council–at the age of 24.
I’ve been teaching for only 1 or 2 years at that time, but when I heard about this opportunity I knew that I had to give it a shot. But before I did anything, I first when to my dad to see if this was actually a good idea for me. The response that I got from him was totally not what I expected.
Prince: What was his response?
MT: He said, “It was a great idea!”
Prince: (laughter) wow
MT: He surprised me when he said that. And it was that type of surprise that knocked me off the fence; so I decided to give it a chance—and that was 2000, but I didn’t win. In the race, I came in fourth out of eight candidates.
Prince: Wow. Now why did you not win? Was it your age? Your experience? Tell me what was it?
MT: It was all of it! (laughter) I’ve only been a teacher for a couple of years. I can see why people would not choose me over more experienced candidates. But the uplifting thing was that I had a lot of people, between 2000 and 2002, saying that they would help me if I run again. So, in 2002 I gave it one more shot, and that was the year that I won.
Prince: Were there any other aspirations that you wanted to pursue—if you didn’t win the election?
MT: Well, academically my main focus has always been U.S. History; but studying it has allowed me to learn interesting things about our leaders—from their small beginnings to their great accomplishments. Learning about our leaders has inspired me to one day run for office. So since I spent so much time reading about these people, I knew that I might as well give it a shot.
Prince: Now growing up in High School I always see you carry a venti size Starbucks iced coffee. So tell me how did that obsession first start off? Tell me the first time that you fell in love with coffee—particularly iced coffee? (smiling).
MT: Well I’m half Japanese, and my dad is Japanese himself, and every so often my dad would take me to an Asian ethnic market. I remembered, when I was in middle school or high school, trying these canned coffees that were Japanese in origin. And the first time that I tried one, it was sweet and fairly strong. And I remembered thinking to myself that this was an unusual flavor—it stuck in my head as something interesting. And so, in college I started to dabble with coffee for a little bit—especially with my tendency for sweeter drinks that I had when I was young. So, for the last 6-7 years, I’ve recreated that drink myself.
MT: Each morning I get a triple espresso; I add 15 packets of sugar to it; I add quite a bit of half and half, and then I pour that over a 30 oz cup of ice. And I sip that for the rest of the day.
Prince: Wow (laughing)
MT: It’s abnormal, but I call it, “Fuel.” I don’t eat breakfast or lunch, so usually that drink keeps me going. Right now it’s about 2 pm or so, and I haven’t eaten anything except for that weird triple espresso that I had.
Prince: (Laughing) Have you had thoughts of marketing this drink? To make it a signature drink here in Coronado?
MT: (Laughing) No, I would not recommend it. It’s an acquired taste. Most people are baffled by the amount of sugar in coffee drinks, but I usually point out to them that sodas have a similar amount of sugar in them.
Prince: Really? Very interesting.
Prince: Now moving away from coffee, can you tell me an embarrassing story that you had during your high school years at CHS?
MT: I think all through High School, was an embarrassing story. (laughing) Well, I liked food a lot, and—when I’m out with my friends—I had a hard time deciding on what entree I would get. On occasion I would like to order two entrees or nibble on different types of food before deciding —I like variety and I don’t like to be trapped with just one entree. So 10 years ago or so, my friends and I gathered in Seal Beach to have breakfast at this one diner; we were visiting a friend who had lived there. And I remember having this powerful urge for both biscuits and gravy, and French toast. There was no breakfast special for it, so I was stuck on wanting both; but not knowing which one I wanted to order.
And so I made the mistake of ordering French toast but with grits—and I realized later on that grits was not the same as hash browns. I thought I was ordering hash browns and gravy, but instead I ordered grits and gravy. So I totally blew it. (laughing)
MT: My other friends ordered biscuits and gravy, and so what I did was dipped my French toast into into my friends’ gravy; and I had three plates in front of me. But that wasn’t the embarrassing part. We had a very nice waitress, and when she came over to our table, to pick up our plates, especially mine, I said, “I’m still working on that”—she obviously didn’t see that coming. She then politely responded back to me and said, “Are you kidding?” When she said that my friends burst out laughing, and then I sheepishly said “Nevermind, you can have them.”
MT: So my embarrassing moment is having my friends laugh at me. My friends and I call that story: “Are you kidding?”
Prince: Tell me, “What was your greatest accomplishment besides becoming Mayor?”
MT: Becoming a U.S. History teacher was probably the biggest accomplishment for me. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do since 11th grade. It’s nice when a dream is realistically realized. Of course, I’m proud of being mayor but I wouldn’t be the Mayor of Coronado, if I wasn’t a US History teacher first.
Prince: Would you have any words of wisdom or motivation for young students (or anyone else), who wishes to follow your footsteps?
MT: I think Life’s successes is about having visions; and then finding out if those visions are realistic or not? When I was an eleventh grader, taking AP U.S. History, we had a substitute teacher—usually nothing gets done when the teacher is away. We had a test coming up on WWI and some of my classmates wandered up to the front of the classroom, to look at a map, and figure out the Sheifflen plan. Listening to their conversation, I remember that I wandered up there too and walked them through the Sheifflen plan—in the teacher’s absence. Afterwards, a friend of mine, as a joke, said to me: “Well you can always be a History teacher, if everything else doesn’t work out for you.” Oddly enough, that was the moment that I realized that being a [US] history teacher was my goal for the future.
I say that because I have worked towards that goal, ever since that moment in my life. And that’s the type of vision that I’ve had for myself.
“If you are going to be a teacher (or mayor, etc.), you need to have some sort of vision for what you are going to teach, and how you will do it; and, then assess it if that vision is actually doable?” In other words, sometimes you have a vision for something that is not realistic, but you have to decide if you want to pursue it or not—or pursue something else?”
So I don’t think you can be a successful teacher, if you don’t have a vision of what your classroom would be like, or how would you conduct it, etc. Those things should be clear in your head. If not, then you need to work towards that clarity. But if you can’t get to that clarity, then you might have to admit that your vision was not realistic. So to me, that is the secret to success for anything: having a vision and then overtime assessing whether or not your vision is reality or not.
Prince: Speaking of visions, one of the biggest issues that our country [California] is facing is education. What is the ‘vision’ that you see today in our education system? And what ‘vision’ would you like to have for our education system in the future?
MT: Well education comes down to learning about things that are important, or things that you want to learn about that are important—that is a very important dichotomy. Again learning about things that OTHERS [teachers, etc.] have determined as important or learning about things that YOU have determined as important. If you are lucky, then it will be both. In other words, what you are taught is what also interests you. If you are unlucky, then the things that you want to learn about will not be taught at your school or in your families—I think the struggle is when you find that your time is going towards the learning things that don’t interest you.
So if you ask me, “how successful is our schools?” then I think that we require kids to learn too much. In other words, not that you can’t learn a lot, [but] I think we require them to study too many subjects all at once.
Prince: Yes—very true.
MT: But that’s how we do it in California and around the country. And so I think that [to me] is the biggest flaw in our education system. I don’t think every kid was meant to study six subjects at the same time—at least at the High School level. For High Schoolers, I think our students are spread too thin.
If you are you going to study something that you DIDN’T want to study, then it’s much harder to do so when you are being compounded with five other subject areas on top of it—especially if you play a sport, have a job, church or any other community service responsibilities.
Kids are asked to do too many things, all at once—in my opinion. I think kids would enjoy learning more, if they didn’t have to take as many things at once; and then have the freedom to choose what they want to study. So, to me that is the biggest problem. Particularly, if you ask the average student, who are struggling: “How many of your classes do you really like?” Then they might say that they like “two,” but disliked “three” classes. That to me is a bad ratio.
Prince: Wow. Very interesting.
Prince: Well I have two more questions for you and then we’ll rap up this interview. The first one is, “how would people describe you in three words?” (Define them for each one).
MT: (smile) Well I hope, without being inaccurate, that people find me Rational, Sensitive, and Approachable.
Rational is another way of saying Logical and that people can understand why I do what I do—or that I can explain on what I am doing well. That is what I am really good at—whether being a teacher or mayor. I think the ability to communicate effectively is a part of being Rational.
Prince: Ok. How about Sensitivity?
MT: I don’t think you will be good at being a teacher, or a public servant, if you are not sensitive to what other people’s problems are; what their issues are; or how you can do your best to help people with their issues? So if I am not sensitive to other people’s needs, then I’ll probably not do a good job at either of those professions. I do not think I am perfect at that, but I try very hard to be aware of other people’s issues.
Prince: Then lastly, Approachable?
MT: Well I think it is mostly true that I am more Approachable as a mayor than I would be as a teacher. If someone has an issue that they need assistance from me or the city, then I try to make it easy for them to call me, email me, or talk me etc. I try to be easy to find, and easy to talk to. I think as a teacher I probably “keep to myself” a little bit too much; so I can work on being more approachable for the sake of the students. I think my natural mode is to “keep to myself,” and a student may feel intimidated by me when they come up [to me] to ask a question. If I can sense that there is a problem, then I’ll reach out to the student. But if I’m not aware of the problem, then I won’t reach out consistently to them to find the problem. I will look at the body language, the behavior, and be a resource to them if they need help.
Prince: Great! My last and final question to ask you is: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
MT: Well my term as mayor is for another four years. So in the fifth year, it would be hard to imagine. I imagine teaching at Coronado High School. I can also imagine running for something else in that same year; or I might not. I do not know what the opportunities will be in five years, and part of Life is seizing opportunities or being aware of them. At this point I can’t tell you what the opportunities will be.
Prince: Well whatever the opportunities maybe, I am certain that you will be extremely successful.
MT: Thank you.
Prince: Well that’s all I have for you, and thank you so much for your time.
MT: No Problem; thank you.