Connecticut teacher nominated for National Teacher of the Year award

Connecticut’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes has been named one of four finalists for the 2016 National Teacher of the Year award. Hayes is a social studies teacher at John F. Kennedy high school in Waterbury, Connecticut.

The Council of Chief State School Officers created the National Teacher of the Year program which, “identifies exceptional teachers in the country, recognizes their effective work in the classroom, amplifies their voices, and empowers them to participate in policy discussions at the state and national levels,” according a CCSSO press release by Olympia Meola. 

The winner of the National Teacher of the Year award acts as a spokesperson for educators across the country. 

“When one of our teachers earns national recognition for her work, it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of incredible teachers across the state who are changing lives of Connecticut students every day,” said Abbe Smith, Director of Communications for the Connecticut Department of Education.

Hayes is the first teacher from Waterbury to win Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year award. News of her win and current nomination came as a pleasant surprise for UConn freshman and Waterbury native Briana-Lynn Smith.

“Most people I know from home don’t take education as seriously as they should. I hope this nomination inspires other teachers to reach for more and students to stay in school regardless of obstacles,” Smith said.

Having grown up surrounded by poverty, drugs and violence, Hayes accredits her drive for education and teaching to the encouragement of her own teachers.

“As a teacher, my own life is a constant reminder that students come from different circumstances and experiences,” Hayes writes. “I have learned that teaching is a lifestyle that extends well beyond the contracted hours.”

Apart from excellent teaching, the National Teacher of the Year award is granted to an individual who also shows great compassion and commitment outside of their work and in the community.

“Over time I realized that I needed to connect to my students on a personal level and think of them as members of society in order help them reach their full potential in my class,” Hayes writes.

Among many other community activities, Hayes is the co-advisor of Helping Out People Everywhere Club, and annually participates in events such as Walk for Autism, Relay for Life and Cancer Awareness Walk along with her students.

The other nominees include Nathan Gibbs-Bowling of Washington, Daniel Jocz of California and Shawn Sheehan of Oklahoma.

The President of the United States will recognize the National Teacher of the Year in the White House in the spring.

“Our hope is for Jahana to share her knowledge and skills with other teachers so that we can improve instruction for students everywhere,” Abbe Smith said.


Brenna Kelly is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at brenna.kelly@uconn.edu.