What it Takes


Jamilla Fort
Fifth Grade Teacher 
Francis Scott Key Elementary School, Baltimore, MD

Jamilla Fort has always been an overachiever. One of few working-class children in her hometown and even fewer students of color, she was enrolled in the honors track and pushed hard to make her teachers proud. She still gets teary when talking about teachers, like Ms. Gregory and Mr. Tobin, who helped her fall in love with learning.

When Jamilla joined Urban Teachers, her goal was to become “the best teacher in the world,” providing urban students with the kind of excellent teaching she’d experienced as a child. She focuses a lot on accountability, encouraging her 5th graders to do their best on every assignment. It’s a lesson her students have taken to heart. Occasionally, there are tears when students see they’ve fallen short, and that’s when Jamilla teaches another critical lesson: turning moments of failure into opportunities to improve.

Jamilla spends a lot of time talking with her students about college and career choices, too. She wants them to understand what it takes to achieve their goals—the years of schooling required to become a doctor or a “boss”—and how the habits they develop now will pay off in the adult world.

Her students appreciate her high expectations, saying, “Ms Fort wants us to do better. She wants us to be better.” For her part, Jamilla is following in the footsteps of the teachers who inspired her, bringing a contagious energy to each lesson and providing the structure her students need to grow as students and as people.