Jahana Hayes: Meet the 2016 National Teacher of the Year

November 4 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: The Power of an Inspirational Teacher

This morning, I’m taking you all the way back to first grade. Nothing major happened that year, aside from my signature coordinating-vest-and-headband ensembles. But I do remember one really important thing: my teacher.

I thought Mrs. Evans was the sweetest, most patient teacher I ever had. (That’s right, I’m looking at you, Mrs. Conway, from kindergarten class!) Mrs. Evans always approached the day with a sunny disposition that rubbed off on her students, and her smile could solve just about any problem a first-grader could dream up. That joy I recall so many years later comes from the magic that great teachers command. It’s inspiring and motivating, and it can stay with you for a lifetime.

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: $30 Per Week Less

These days, the price of everything is going up, but there’s one thing that isn’t increasing or even staying the same, and that’s the salaries of public-sector teachers. According to a study published by the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, the average weekly wages of public-sector teachers decreased $30 per week from 1996 to 2015. Yep, that’s a hard pill to swallow, especially considering teachers hold the key to our children’s future.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year

With those numbers in mind, you might be thinking, “Who in their right mind would want to teach?” Thankfully, there are plenty of women committed to the hard work of teaching, and so many do it passionately day in and day out. Jahana Hayes is one such teacher, and her years of dedication to her students haven’t gone unnoticed. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently named Jahana the 2016 National Teacher of the Year!

While Jahana is clearly in her element while teaching, her path to becoming a teacher started with her struggles as a student. She grew up in the midst of poverty and violence, but her teachers gave her hope, refusing to give up on her, even when she became pregnant at the age of 17. With that kind of support, Jahana became the first in her family to graduate from college, enrolling in community college seven years after graduating high school, and going on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

For more than a decade, Jahana has been inspiring students to do what she did: pay it forward by becoming educators. She teaches history at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut, and emphasizes that the key to teaching is to pay attention to the “whole child,” and put much effort into learning what each student needs in order to stay engaged in class.

As part of its announcement of the National Teacher of the Year award, the Council of Chief State School Officers posted a video demonstrating this teacher’s zeal and utterly life-changing devotion to her students. I’ll be real with you, ladies: It moved me to tears.

What has perhaps been most effective in helping Jahana become such an excellent educator is her relentless positivity. She says there’s been a recurring negative dialogue about the teaching system being broken, a flawed sentiment that must be replaced with a focus on what is working for teachers and students, and how to expand upon it. She hopes to use the honor of National Teacher of the Year as a platform to advocate for inclusive education throughout America.

Amazingly, this humble teacher claims she isn’t the best educator out there, or even the best at her school. Her humility is staggering, and her passion comes through with every word. We could all learn a little from Jahana about approaching life with positivity, a passionate spirit and the utmost concern for others.


Today’s quote, a long-held Japanese proverb, perfectly sums up Jahana Hayes’ story. It says:

“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at OnTheDotWoman.com and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

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