UW Dream Project

February 1, 2013

Looking Forward: Teach for America

Looking Forward is a new series where we highlight various post-grad opportunities for senior mentors in Dream Project who want to stay connected to the world of education, leadership, and mentoring. This post is from Katherine Kleitsch, a Teach for America staff member and Dream Project alumn.

Dream Project family!

I’m like an old auntie that knows you and your family but you don’t know me…  I’m from back in the day – before the DP Center, the Gates grant or viral FAFSA videos – back when five of us decided to name our weekly meetings “Steering Committee” (yup – there were only five of us!) and we would meet in Sam Lim’s apartment off 42nd.

We’d sit on the floor and talk for hours every week about high school expansion, who we should ask to come to class the next week and the ever challenging topic of underclassmen outreach (some things don’t change :)).  In fact, we argued more than talked.  We put aside readings and homework and duked it out each week.  Not for pride and definitely not for the 2 credits, but because we were committed to pushing each other to get it right for our mentees and the future of the program.

We were acutely aware of the fact that we had the privilege of attending a world-class university and the role we could play in ensuring that other students, that we were no better than, would have the same opportunity.  So I don’t actually know you personally; but I know that you love your mentees, you have an undying belief in their potential and work tirelessly to ensure they get a fair shot.

Dream Project taught me the importance of equality in relationships and the beauty of reciprocity in service.  DP spoke to my personal values and solidified my conviction in the power of education.  It provided a pathway for me to become an advocate for social justice and a force for change.  I wasn’t ready to walk away after graduation.  I had an urge to expand my impact but I also recognized that I had a fairly limited experience and a lot left to learn.  I started to consider Teach For America.

As you likely know, Teach For America is a highly discussed and debated organization.  I did my research – met with the recruiter, sought out others that had done TFA (even someone who had quit) to hear their reflections and read lots of articles and research.  While not a perfect organization, I realized it was a group of folks working relentlessly for the same things I believed in, not so different than the five of us in Sam’s apartment.

Just days after graduation, I flew to New Orleans, Louisiana with two suitcases to start a new career as a secondary math teacher.  Between my regional induction in New Orleans and institute training in Phoenix, this was the hottest summer of my life.  Training was exhausting and I wasn’t great when I started teaching summer school.  But I fought to be the teacher that by kids that summer and my future students in NOLA deserved because even before I met them, I knew that I loved them, I had an undying belief in their potential and was ready to work tirelessly to ensure they got a fair shot.

After completing my two year commitment I made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided to leave the classroom to join Teach For America staff to work as the Recruitment Manager at UW.  I tell the stories of my students and the millions of kids growing up in poverty, whose stories would otherwise be left unheard.  I know that Husky grads will go on to do great things.  It’s my responsibility to ensure they consider leveraging their knowledge and skills for this work.  There is a crisis in our public education system and its repercussions reverberate through our families, communities and greater society.  This is arguably the greatest social justice issue of our time and we all have a role to play moving forward.

Dream Project was the hallmark of my undergraduate years and likely both the reason why I was interested in joining TFA as well as the reason why I was accepted.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to support mentees in their pursuit of post-high school plans, to grapple with broader issues in our education system with classmates and to challenge my leadership capabilities as we figured out how to run the organization as students.  Joining TFA allowed me to expand both my impact and my own leadership as I continually search to understand and maximize my role in our broader movement.  I’m honored to be a part of the same Dream Project family and to continue working side by side in an ongoing struggle for equity and justice.

Your DP auntie,
Katherine Kleitsch

For additional context, here are the basics of Teach For America:

Mission: Teach For America is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.

Theory of change:

  1. Recruit a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement to work to expand educational opportunity, starting by teaching for two years in a low-income community.
  2. Provide intensive training, support and career development that helps these leaders increase their impact and deepen their understanding of what it takes to close the achievement gap.
  3. Accelerate leadership among the network of alumni to work at every level of education, policy and other professions, to ensure that all children can receive an excellent education.

If you are interested in applying to Teach For America:

  • Contact Katherine at katherine.kleitsch@teachforamerica.org.
  • Graduating seniors: the final application deadline for the 2013 corps is February 15.
  • Juniors and seniors graduating past spring quarter: We are piloting an early deadline for the 2014 corps this spring.

Katherine is from Kent, Washington and graduated from the University of Washington in 2009 with a degree in Business Administration.  She joined Teach For America after graduation and taught Geometry at O. Perry Walker College and Career Preparatory High School in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Currently, Katherine works as the Teach For America Recruitment Manager at UW.  Connect with Katherine on linkedin or via email.