Despite poverty and teen pregnancy, new National Teacher of the Year overcame challenges

Posted May 10

The new National Teacher of the Year announced last week came from humble beginnings and faced textbook challenges, including a teen pregnancy. Jahana Hayes, who has taught in her hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut, high school for the past decade, now tries to offer her students the same support she got.

Hayes has plenty of opportunity to help younger versions of herself. Sixty percent of the students at Waterbury's John F. Kennedy High School, where she teaches, are low-income, according to Pro Publica.

Waterbury Superintendent Kathleen M. Ouellette told the Hartford Courant that Hayes is "the epitome of the American dream. She tells her story extremely well, grew up in an economically depressed area in Waterbury and she really experienced the harsh realities of urban life as a child and relied on her community and teachers to guide her into the direction of giving back to the community."

With her selection, Hayes will have a one-year sabbatical, during which she will tour the country as an ambassador for the teaching profession. Deseret News spoke last week with the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, Shanna Peeples, on what she learned during her year's tour.

"A lot of my students, they feel like they have nothing to give, which is a very defeating attitude," Hayes told the Associated Press. "I've had students who live in shelters, and they're out with me working with Habitat for Humanity. It is empowering for them because they know no matter where they are right now, there's opportunity for improvement. So many people have helped them along the way, it just feels good for them to help somebody else."

“I really think that we need to change the narrative, change the dialogue about what teaching is as a profession,” Hayes told the Washington Post in an interview. “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.”

"Everyone has a gift, and I think that once you figure out what that gift is, and you make a connection with them and meet them wherever they are, that learning occurs," Hayes told "CBS This Morning" after her selection was announced.



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