Wynter Pitts is a first-grade teacher at Citizens Academy Southeast, a Title I school in Cleveland with a 97 percent Black student enrollment.

While I was in the hallway getting ready for a morning meeting, I saw a student of mine going to the wrong line. I immediately called out to him and asked if he thought that line was going to our classroom. He laughed, showing his cute dimples. As he walked to the correct line, I told him that he’s a Pitts — because when he enters the school building his last name changes to mine for eight hours until he enters his mom’s car.

When my students enter my classroom, I want them to know that they are valuable to me and to each other. I aspire for them to experience a sense of belonging to a supportive team, caring family, and vibrant community. I believe their backgrounds will not create barriers, but rather strengthen their resilience so that they can function at their highest academic abilities.

I’m aware that there are a number of external factors working against Black boys and girls. However, my students deserve the very best from me to ensure that they defy all of the odds. Hence, I teach to make a difference in the lives of children who are disadvantaged. I firmly believe Cleveland has the vital resources and community leaders to execute a meaningful change in the lives of children I serve. I am committed to the cause of creating an educational experience that seeks to nurture and build upon the strengths of our most vulnerable children and their families.

This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.