article by Michael Melia via abc7ny.com
A Connecticut high school history teacher chosen as the National Teacher of the Year on Thursday says she was surrounded by poverty, drugs and violence as a child but imagined other possibilities for her life with help from educators.
Jahana Hayes, who teaches at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, CT, was selected for the honor by the Council of Chief State School Officers. She will be recognized by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony this coming Tuesday.
Hayes, 44, grew up in a Waterbury housing project and became a teenage mother while still in high school. She said the influence of her own teachers taught her that a school’s job sometimes overlaps with the job of parents, and she wants her students to know there are no dead ends.
“No matter where you are or how bad you think it is, there’s always opportunities for growth and opportunities for improvement,” she said. “I think too often, especially at the high school level, people deal in absolutes and students get the message that, ‘If I mess up or I don’t do everything exactly right right now, that that’s the end of my story.'”
At an urban school with a widely diverse student body, she said she has found teaching is a lifestyle that extends beyond the contracted hours. She finds herself serving not only as a teacher but also as a counselor, a confidant and a protector of her students.