From the moment I first heard Jahana Hayes speak, I knew that she was special. Riding back from a track meet, I came across her 2016 National Teacher of the Year YouTube video. I was feeling overwhelmed as I was preparing for an interview to be my state’s teacher of the year. In the video, Jahana, a teenage mother who was determined to be successful, shared that, in spite of all the odds she had against her, public education saved her life. I believe that the key to Jahana’s success was that she displayed the ability to start where she was, use what she had, and do what she could in various instances of her life.
As I watched this phenomenal woman share her journey through her video, the tears streamed down my face, and I found the strength to have the audacity to believe that I could become my state’s first African-American Teacher of the Year.
This is the influence that Jahana has with everyone who meets her; she provides hope and is the living embodiment of inspiration. Jahana understands, and would often say, that she was “chosen for such a time as this.” She knew that she was living her “Esther moment”. During her time as National Teacher of the Year, Jahana’s platform was about teacher recruitment and teacher retention with a focus on diversifying the teacher pipeline. She also brought national attention to issues of equity for our nation’s underserved children.
It is no secret that the teaching profession has been under attack since last year. In spite of that, teachers are mobilizing in ways we have never seen before, with #Red4Ed campaigns spreading like wildfire across this nation. In May 2018, with the climate of the nation being one that reeked of toxicity against our precious profession, Jahana once again knew that she needed to serve “for such a time as this”. As she had done for many other decisions she had made in her life, Jahana once again started where she was, used what she had, and did what she could.
- Start Where You Are: When Jahana announced she would be running for the 5th Congressional District of Connecticut, she had no funding, no team, and she was told she had no chance; however, Jahana started where she was and decided that she could, once again, against all odds, have the audacity to believe that she could and should run.
- Use What You Have: Jahana may not have had money when she began her campaign, but she had the support of her family, friends and students who loved her and believed in her. She also used her desire to make our public education system better as the fuel that motivated her to push forward. Finally, Jahana used that same tenacity that brought her from poverty to a history teacher to a National Teacher of the Year and eventually to becoming a candidate for Congress to be a motivating factor in her journey.
- Do What You Can: Jahana is doing what she can to make our nation a better place. Rather than sitting back and saying what should be done to improve our schools, what we could do to make DACA a reality, or how we can make stronger gun laws, she did what she could; she ran; she fought; she won!
“This history teacher just made history”, Jahana said last night of her historic win as the first Black woman to be elected to the U.S. House from Connecticut.
Jahana, you were created “for such a time as this”, and your fellow State Teachers of the Year are proud of you; we support you, and we believe in you. Continue to use what you got, start where you are, and do what you can!