After graduating from The College of New Jersey and earning a graduate degree at the University of Connecticut, Otto Katt knew he wanted to make a difference. Inspired by the Citizen Schools mission, he moved to Boston and began working with middle school students as a Teaching Fellow leading academic enrichment and interventions. After his two-year commitment, Otto decided the classroom was the place to continue his impact. He joined the 2012 Teach For America Charlotte corps and began leading his own middle school social studies class. His passion for education only grew, and he is now a Teach For America Capitol Hill Fellow, bringing his classroom experience to Washington, D.C.
Q: I’d love to hear more about your path to Teach For America. How did you decide to join Citizen Schools? And what was your path to TFA?
A: I’ve always had an interest in education. Citizen Schools was a great opportunity to work directly with students without having the large responsibility of managing a full classroom. After my two years, I realized just how passionate I was about education, plus I felt more prepared to lead my own classroom. After speaking with a Teach For America recruiter, I knew it was the right next step. I felt confident that Citizen Schools prepared me for many of the challenges that come with teaching.
Q: How did you grow personally and professionally through your service with Citizen Schools and Teach For America?
A: It’s one thing to read a study about the challenges low-income neighborhoods face. It’s entirely different to actually work with kids struggling with homelessness or generational poverty. You see first-hand how these issues are affecting their education. Citizen Schools and TFA gave me an opportunity to have an immediate and direct impact on students’ lives. Now that I’m working in policy, I see how that experience has really helped me find my voice in education.
Q: Looking back, what is your favorite memory from your service with Citizen Schools?
A: We got to do a mock trail apprenticeship with a big Boston legal firm. It was the first time many of my students had been downtown, and they got to walk into this 60-story, glass-covered high rise. It was really impactful to see middle school students interact with paralegals and lawyers who had argued cases in big district courts. My kids were able to see that success was possible for them.
Q: How did your service with Citizen Schools prepare you to be a leader with Teach For America?
A: Despite being in a different city, the student demographic was very similar. My TFA placement school in Charlotte was predominantly African America, and 90 percent or more qualified for free and reduced lunch. I was familiar with the challenges my new community faced. Citizen Schools helped me develop a work-life balance. It also taught me time management, classroom management, importance of reaching out to families, and how to collaborate with colleagues.
Q: What are your big career goals for the future, and how have your professional experiences driven these ambitions?
A: My goal is a career in policy. I’m enjoying developing legislative skills and I’m committed to staying in education reform. After having that hands-on experience, I learned that policies don’t exist in a vacuum. These big state policies are directly impacting our teachers, students, families, and communities. My professional experiences have kept me grounded. Now, if I’m going to consider a policy, I’m thinking about my students, and the families and communities they’re a part of.