Jahana Hayes may be a Congresswoman now but she still considers herself first and foremost a teacher. The former Waterbury teacher and 2016 National Teacher of the Year met with CEA members from Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District recently in Danbury and shared her journey to becoming a U.S. Representative as well as her priorities in Washington.
Running for Congress had never been in Hayes’ plans, she told the more than 70 teachers gathered at Anthony’s Lake Club in Danbury, until the opportunity suddenly presented itself and she realized the potential the position had to serve educators and further their interests. It was the connections she had with fellow teachers, here in Connecticut and around the nation, that led to her Congressional victory.
Once in Congress Hayes realized that, despite her many years as a teacher, the odds were stacked against her when it came to getting a seat on the House Committee on Education and Labor. As a first-year Congresswoman, she found those with more seniority had priority when it came to committee appointments.
Hayes didn’t relent and kept pointing out that there is no one better suited to serve on the Education Committee than a teacher. Eventually Congressman Joe Courtney, who represents Connecticut’s Second District, offered to give up his place on the committee if it would allow Hayes to have a seat. Hayes said she was incredibly appreciative of his support, and eventually both were able to serve on the committee.
Hayes takes her role on the Education Committee seriously, and, despite the many demands on her time, makes it a priority to be in the hearing room to listen to testimony even when many of her House colleagues are busy elsewhere. Hayes said she always remembers that educators put her into office, and she will continue to make education a top priority. She can communicate the important nuances of education that many in Congress, who have zero experience in education, might otherwise fail to grasp.
When she first became a Congresswoman last year Hayes had hoped to be able to have real conversations with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Unfortunately, her interactions with DeVos have left her with the conclusion that DeVos doesn’t want to listen to what teachers have to say and has her own agenda.
Following Hayes’ remarks at the event sponsored by CEA and NEA-Danbury’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Commission CEA Regional UniServ Organizer/Trainer Herman Whitter also addressed teachers, discussing implicit and institutional biases. Hayes stayed through his comments and talked with teachers after.
“In the 30-plus years I’ve been advocating for union members I’ve never before seen someone in politics stay through someone else’s presentation and engage with participants like this,” Whitter said. “Kudos to our Congresswoman for staying and participating.”
Members enjoyed hearing from Hayes and were very appreciative that she was willing to spend so much time with them.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have Jahana Hayes representing us in Congress,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “Thank you, Congresswoman, for being a true voice for educators.”