Meredith Hughes is a third-grade teacher at Ward Elementary School in Henrico County outside of Richmond, Virginia. She has worked in education for eight years. Ward Elementary’s student population is 60 percent black and 65 percent low-income. 

Last year was a tough one — so tough, in fact, I applied for other jobs mid-year. I had moved school districts from south Arlington, Virginia, to the east end of Henrico County (outside Richmond), and I didn’t think I could do it. I had seen tough classes in south Arlington but this was a different kind of tough: Students blurted out throughout each lesson. Kids walked around the room, kicking desks or walls and yelling in anger. But as I was applying to other jobs, I began thinking about my students (sounds ridiculous to write that) — how could I leave them in the middle of the year? My students need structure and routine, and change is hard for them. As difficult as last year had been, I reminded myself that I am doing this job to help exactly these kinds of kids — the ones who do not have stability at home, the ones who come to school for structure. I am here to provide a safe, comfortable, and fun learning environment. And so, with support from my co-workers, I worked to figure out how to make my room less chaotic. I met with my grade-level team, as well as others, to talk about behavior management ideas — some even offered to stop by to check in on certain students. My admin team and I brainstormed ideas to better utilize school resources. And I came in some mornings to little notes of encouragement from the PE teacher across the hall. I never felt like I was alone, and slowly, but surely, we got to a good place. I am proud to say I am staying on this year. In fact, I have requested to follow my kiddos to third grade — because I want them to transition into their first testing grade with ease.

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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.