We are so proud to have Tessa Catlett, Assistant Principal at KIPP Ascend Primary School, on our board. In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, she shares what's it's like to work at an inner-city school and what keeps her motivated to give her all to her students.
1. Describe your current job.
I currently serve as the Assistant Principal at KIPP Ascend Primary, a K-5 charter school located in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s west side. In this role, I manage a team of teachers by providing instructional coaching and support all of our 5th grade students’ academic and character development.
2. What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
Growing up in the city of Chicago, I had the privilege of attending excellent schools and receiving the best education possible. It wasn’t until my high school experience at a Chicago Public School that I realized this was not the reality for everyone, but a privilege I was awarded due to demographic circumstances. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of a movement that changed this narrative; I wanted to work to ensure that all students, regardless of their zip code, have access to an education that they deserve. Furthermore, after working with children in after-school programs and juvenile detention centers in college, I became passionate about helping students find their voice and be advocates for themselves and their community. I feel extremely honored to work with my students and families each day, and am humbled that they have allowed me to be a part of their lives.
3. Share one thing that most people don’t know about working at an inner-city school.
Too often people think of children and families from the inner-city as victims, and somehow deficient. What I have learned from my work is that these students are smart, committed, and incredibly resilient. They come from loving, caring, hard working, and involved families who want what’s best for their child. My students are not victims, they are the powerful future of this city.
4. Tell us your absolute favorite memory while working at KIPP.
In the spring of 2015 I coached Girls On The Run, leading a group of 20 girls through a self-esteem curriculum while training to run their first 5k race. I had one of my most challenging students, Kenyajha, join the team, as I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to spend time together outside of school. On the day of the race, Kenyajha and I ran the entire race together. As we crossed the finish line, she gave me a huge hug and tears came to my eyes. Later that day, he mother texted me to say thank you for not giving up on her daughter. It is small moments like this that make my job worth it.
5. How has helping others - both through work and outside of work – impacted you?
My work has taught me to be a more compassionate and humble person. This work is hard, and it can’t be done alone. Realizing the power of a movement has forced me to have humility in what I do. Getting to know my students and their families has made me develop a more compassionate lens and value relationships both in and out of work.
6. In your opinion, what is the greatest effect MFO had on your students?
My Favorite Outfit provides an incredible opportunity for girls to feel comfortable being their authentic selves and participate in a positive experience with their peers. Allowing them to shop for their own clothes and feel good in their own skin is an incredibly moving and powerful experience.
7. Share one piece of advice for aspiring educators out there.
I have two… Teach from your heart. If your heart is in it, everything else will fall into place.
Get to know your students as if they were your own kids. Love them endlessly and fight for them tirelessly.