National Teacher of the Year inspired students to carry lessons outside classroom

This year's National Teacher of the Year, a Connecticut history teacher, said teaching her students that she cares must precede all other learning. 

The newly named National Teacher of the Year has turned her personal history into a history lesson that inspires her students. 

Jahana Hayes, a history teacher from Connecticut, persuaded her students to learn about and serve in their communities by first showing them that she cared, the New Haven Register reported.

“What is the use of being the smartest person in the room if you don’t care about the people around you,” Ms. Hayes told the New Haven Register. 

Hayes's students at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Conn., have taken history lessons outside the classroom, as she taught them to become involved the community by serving with Habitat for Humanity and with other community service organizations, Kathleen Megan reported for the Hartford Courant. She has used her own history as a teenage mother who almost dropped out of school to connect with each of her students, which she said is an essential prerequisite to teaching.

"Making a connection with students – I think that is the most important thing, because students don't learn from people they don't like," Hayes told the Hartford-Courant. 

She described growing up in an urban project with a mother who struggled with drug abuse. But she still managed to pull down top grades in advanced placement classes. She became discouraged, however, when the school transfered her to a remedial program for teen moms after she became pregnant. With the help of a caring high school guidance counselor, she moved back on course.

"I see myself in students who are high-achieving and do very well. I see myself in the students who are kind of disconnected and drifting," Hayes told the Hartford Courant. "I see myself in the students who have addiction in their family or families who may have just gotten evicted.''

Hayes's devotion to teaching seems to have extended outside of her classroom, as she touched the lives of many students who never took a class from her. Sarah Emanuel-Norwood, a senior, says she entered Kennedy High School with a distrust of teachers. She acted up and was regularly suspended for cutting class, dress code, and causing disruptions in class, she told the Connecticut Republican-American. Hayes noticed the problems and printed out her class schedule so she knew where she was supposed to be.

"She was calling my teachers to make sure I was in class," Sarah said. "If I wasn't, she would come find me."

Hayes visited with Sarah's teachers and convinced the teenager that she cared.

"Mrs. Hayes changed the way I look at teachers," Sarah told the Republican-American. "Now I just feel like I have to get to know them first to know if they care or not."

Her ability to teach students that someone cares persuaded the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C., that her influence should be stretched even further outside the classroom, so she will spend the next year traveling the country as an ambassador for education.

"It is a 'gift' to give others the feeling that someone values and realizes their worth," Waterbury Superintendent Kathleen Ouellette wrote in Hayes's application. "This defines Jahana's influence." 

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