A conversation with Chemistry teacher Grace Kato: Growing as a Teacher and Leader

We recently sat down to talk to DPA chemistry teacher Grace Kato. A self-described “introvert”, she talks about how DPA helped her grow as a teacher and as a person, her belief in the power of kindness, and her love of video games, water use, and avocado toast. The conversation has been edited for clarity.

Q: What is your superpower as a teacher? 

Kindness. It’s just who I am, and how I always want to be. You never know what a scholar is going through. I try not to yell. I don’t want a student to ever feel unsafe in my classroom. I want them to relax, to feel comfortable making mistakes, and to just be themselves. It takes them a minute. They are sometimes confused. They're like “Oh, she's not mad I dropped the beaker?”  Instead, I’m like “No, just clean it up and get right back to work.” 

Q: What makes DPA special?  

The level of support here is a lot better than in all the other schools where I’ve ever taught. What really makes a school run is the adults and the adult culture. If I have questions, they answer them. If I need support, I get it. The team is organized, which means simple but important things like access to supplies are never an issue. I’m treated like a person.  

Q: If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?   

I would be working at a wastewater treatment plant. When I was in the 11th grade, we took a trip to a wastewater treatment plant and a landfill, and it was so cool. We take for granted our access to clean water. Ever since that field trip, I’ve had a passion for water use.  

Q: I hear you love video games.  What are your favorites? 

I tend to play RPGs and turn-based games. I have three older brothers. They played a lot of video games so I grew up watching them play. It’s a great way to connect with people. I’ve made friends online via gaming. There’s a sense of accomplishment when you beat a level along with friends.  Right now I'm playing Final Fantasy 14, which all my students know because I have a poster in my classroom. 

Q: How does the leadership team support you as a teacher?  

I’ve developed skills this year that I wish I had when I started teaching nearly 10 years ago.  The leadership team always gives the “why” and the evidence behind all decisions. Mashea and the other admins go to other campuses, see what is working, and bring back ideas to us.  

Q: What’s your ideal Sunday morning?  

Sleep in, have a hot cup of coffee, walk my dog (a German Shepard Lab mix named Autumn Jane), and then have brunch with a friend.  Like a true millennial, I love avocado toast.

Q: What has helped you grow as a teacher?  

What has helped me most is the actual practice. I’m introverted and shy. One of our school mottos is “we don’t practice on the kids.”  So practicing with other teachers is extremely helpful for me. I’m strong on the content but often need help with delivery.

My previous teaching experience shook me, and honestly, I wasn't sure I was going to come back to the profession. DPA has built that confidence back up. I’ve grown not just as a teacher but as a person.  

Q: How have you grown as a person? 

As someone who is an introvert, the practice of KLR - Known, Loved, and Respected - has helped me grow my empathy. I’ve seen how that has spilled over into my personal life.  

Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  

I’d like to still be in DC and still be teaching. I really enjoy working with young people and I love science. I’d like to pursue a masters while I'm teaching so that I have a deeper knowledge of my content. I want people to see me and know “she has the credentials, she’s got this.”

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