How will your students remember you? That was the question Waterbury history teacher and Connecticut 2016 Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes posed to her fellow district Teachers of the Year at a ceremony in their honor.
The desire to be a positive influence on her students clearly drives the Kennedy High School teacher, who said that she always wanted to be a teacher. Hayes, who grew up in Waterbury and at times struggled in school, said there were many teachers who made an important, positive difference in her life.
“I know what it feels like to have a dream and be in an environment where you’re not expected to thrive,” she said. “Teachers can make all the difference in these situations.”
Hayes remembers many moments, both inspiring and difficult, from her own experience as a Waterbury student and said, “I carry my experience as a reminder that I always have to seize every opportunity to create a positive memory for my students and make sure their dreams thrive.”
It was a proud night, not just for Hayes and her family, but for all of Waterbury. A large contingent of Kennedy High School students and other members of the Waterbury community made the trek down I-84 in the pouring rain to be present at The Bushnell in Hartford while Hayes was honored.
Introducing Hayes, Waterbury Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Ouellette said, “Not only does Jahana teach history, she is making history.”
This year marks the first time in the Teacher of the Year program’s 65 years that a Waterbury teacher has been named Connecticut Teacher of the Year. The Teacher of the Year program honors excellence in teaching and identifies one individual from among many outstanding educators to serve as a vocal representative of the teaching profession.
Hayes said she wants her students to remember her as “someone who cared about their academic growth and their personal growth. Someone who cared about their families and their communities. Someone who took the time to learn their stories and understand their journeys.”
Talking about the powerful impact teachers have on the lives of their students, Hayes told her 104 teaching colleagues who were honored during the recognition ceremony, “You are somebody’s hero and you don’t even know it.”
She encouraged educators to invest the extra time and go the extra mile for their students to help them fulfill their dreams. “I know what happens when a teacher chooses to ignore the obstacles and focus on the dreams. I am what happens when a teacher chooses to ignore the obstacles and focus on a dream.”
Watch Jahana Hayes’ entire speech below.