Skip to Content

NEA member Jahana Hayes named 2016 National Teacher of the Year

Paying it forward, ‘positive experiences at school inspired’ her to become a teacher

WASHINGTON - April 28, 2016 -

A teenage mother who was encouraged by her teachers not to lose sight of her college dreams is now the 2016 National Teacher of the Year.

NEA member Jahana Hayes, who teaches history at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Conn., had the deck stacked against her at an early age. Economic disadvantage, adversity and an unplanned pregnancy would be obstacles for anyone. But Hayes' teachers saw her potential and encouraged her to imagine a different set of circumstances.

"Jahana Hayes is a shining example of the exceptional teachers who encourage their students to strive for their dreams and never give up, no matter what card they've been dealt," said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. "On behalf of the National Education Associations three million members Jahana's colleagues we want to congratulate her on our professions most prestigious honor."

Hayes cites her deeply personal experiences for the reason she became a teacher with one goal in mind: pay it forward.

"Teachers exposed me to a different world by letting me borrow books to read at home and sharing stories about their college experiences," said Hayes. "So many things that [teachers do] fall outside of traditional teaching responsibilities. It is those times when I am transformed into an advisor, counselor, confidant and protector. The positive experiences at school inspired me to become a teacher and that has always been my driving influence."

Hayes is a member of NEAs state and local and affiliates, the Connecticut Education Association and the Waterbury Teachers Association, respectively. At a time when teachers' unions are under attack from privateers, profiteers and Silicon billionaires, Hayes credits a strong union as the way to deliver quality public education, especially to the most vulnerable students.

We are extremely proud of Jahana's achievements and her unyielding passion for all of her students, said CEA President Sheila Cohen. "She is dedicated to the teaching profession and committed to being the best role model possible for her students. Jahana is a shining example of the countless educators in Connecticut, especially those in urban districts, who are making a difference in the lives of each and every one of their students."

The National Teacher of the Year, which began in 1952, is chosen from the State Teachers of the Year by a national selection committee of leading education organizations, including NEA, the nations largest education employee professional organization.

Continuing a long and proud tradition of excellence in the classroom, Hayes is the 11th NEA member in as many years to be named the nation's top teacher. She is the second Connecticut educator to take top honors in the last decade. Greenwich special education teacher Anthony Tony J. Mullen was the 2009 National Teacher of the Year. Now Hayes is a national exemplar representing Connecticuts outstanding teaching force.

Hayes will spend a year traveling the nation to represent educators and advocate on behalf of public education. As a leading spokesperson for the teaching profession, she hopes to encourage more people to follow her path into the classroom.

This year, Hayes will be honored by President Barack Obama in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House on National Teacher Day, May 3, which is part of National Teacher Appreciation Week. NEA once again has joined the National PTA to encourage others to say Thank You to America's teachers by asking people to share pictures, inspirational messages and stories about their favorite teachers on social media during Teacher Appreciation Week, May 26, with the hashtag #ThankATeacher.

The 12-year teaching veteran likes to say "Education is the great equalizer. I strive to meet students where they are, and not dwell on where they should be. I remember myself at various points in my journey and wonder how hopeless I must have seemed to the teachers who continued to work with me. Because of this, I celebrate every milestone."

Graduating senior Gaaiya Hunter is one of the future leaders Hayes has inspired.

"[Ms. Hayes] is amazing. She gets us to be the best we can be, reminding us that we have great value," said Hunter, who is applying to colleges with plans to be a nurse practioner. "Failure is not an option. She pushes us to do even better."

Follow us on twitter at @NEAmedia

Keep up with the conversation at #ThankATeacher and #NTOY16

# # #

The National Education Association is the nations largest professional organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at

CONTACT: Staci Maiers, NEA Communications
202-270-5333 cell,