On November 10, 2015, Jahana Hayes of Waterbury was named 2016 Connecticut Teacher of the Year. But that was only the beginning for Mrs. Hayes, who was selected as one of four finalists in January and subsequently named 2016 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers on April 29, 2016. She was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House on National Teacher Appreciation Day, May 3, 2016.
Jahana’s story begins in Waterbury, Connecticut where she was raised in a housing project, surrounded by poverty, drugs, and violence. She loved school, and her teachers told her she could someday go to college. At 17 she became a teenage mother. At the same time, she was an excellent student in high school and didn’t want to give up on her dreams. She attended an alternative school for teenage parents and finished her education. She graduated from high school and worked for several years as a nurse’s aide before returning to school to pursue a degree. She earned an associate degree from Naugatuck Valley Community College and went on to earn a bachelor of science degree from Southern Connecticut State University, a master of arts degree from the University of Saint Joseph, and a sixth-year certificate from the University of Bridgeport. She teaches history at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury.
Video: President Obama honors the National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes, and finalists.
A new journey has begun for Jahana, who is now in the national spotlight as an ambassador for the teaching profession. She will spend the next year traveling across the nation, where she will represent educators and advocate on behalf of teachers. In an interview with the Washington Post, Jahana states, “I really think that we need to change the narrative, change the dialogue about what teaching is as a profession. We’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years talking about the things that are not working. We really need to shift our attention to all the things that are working.” She is committed to reminding Americans that teachers have the potential to be powerful, positive forces in their students’ lives.
In her Connecticut Teacher of the Year application, she wrote, “Being constantly faced with negative media perceptions surrounding teaching practices and a perceived lack of accountability makes me much more determined to be vocal and supportive of teachers and teaching as a profession.”
In Connecticut, we are proud to know that Jahana Hayes is one of our teachers; going forward as America’s teacher, she will continue to elevate the national dialogue about what it means to be a teacher!