Elizabeth Hatcher, history teacher at Democracy Prep Charter Middle School, contributed to this post.

I really struggled during my first two years at Democracy Prep. My main goal was to get kids following simple directions and to stop making weird noises. Seven years later, coaching the toughest students has become my specialty. I never thought I would get to a place where my scholars would passionately discuss women’s suffrage or debate the merits of capitalism versus communism during recess.

As a law school graduate I, of course, love teaching history. Now more than ever, I see the connections between topics I love and the skills my scholars need to succeed academically and professionally. However, and more importantly, time and experience prove that we (teachers) are responsible for creating an environment where learning transforms into action. If I want my scholars to view the world through different perspectives and empathize with others, I must act with patience and attentiveness. If I want my scholars to question authority and feel empowered to speak out against injustice, I must hear and respect their points of view. You can hold students to high expectations, yet have them leave your class energized and eager to share their thoughts with anyone who will listen. If you want to see every hand raised in the classroom, pose questions that connect to your students’ daily lives and genuinely show them how to make a difference with the knowledge they now possess.

Every day I’m finding new ways to reach students despite various challenges, and they are learning. My greatest joys as a teacher are getting emails and texts from scholars after school hours about something just heard on the news, and bumping into former scholars I taught during my toughest years and seeing how much they remember from my lessons. There’s nothing more rewarding than being committed to teaching ALL students and seeing them grow. No matter what mistakes me or my scholars make, these mistakes are not who we are but paths to where we should be.