"One can only assume that, in your search for National Teacher of the Year, you are seeking 'more' - someone who represents the defining essence of inspiration."
This statement from Waterbury, Connecticut Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Ouellette perfectly captures what is so evident in 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes. Hayes, a high school history teacher from Waterbury, is an inspiration - through her own life story, her dedication to her students and her faith in the teaching profession.
Hayes describes her upbringing as having been "surrounded by abject poverty, drugs and violence," - where "education was not seen as a pathway to success." Yet with the encouragement and support of her own teachers, Hayes became the first person in her family to graduate from college. She experienced firsthand the transformational impact teachers can have on the lives of their students.
She chose to make teaching her profession so she could fill that same role in the lives of her students - helping guide them on their own pathway to success - not only academically, but as engaged members of society. In Hayes' words, "graduating students who demonstrate respect, responsibility, honesty, and integrity is as critically important as mastering content and demonstrating proficiency."
But what I find so inspirational is how Hayes connects herself within the teaching profession as a whole. When she speaks about the profession, Hayes speaks about the honor of being a teacher, the impact all teachers can have on the lives of others and why teachers should encourage more students to become educators.
While Hayes, who in late April was named 2016 National Teacher of the Year, and all State Teachers of the Year received well-deserved recognition during Teacher Appreciation Week, there are countless teachers across the country who are also an inspiration in their communities and who serve as a beacon of hope and opportunity for our students.
At the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), we know that having highly effective teachers is arguably the greatest investment in our students and their success. That's why we work to support and engage great educators. We support teachers in raising their voice and participating in policy conversations that impact the real work in classrooms.
Through our Network for Transforming Educator Preparation, we are leading the way in improving educator preparation by engaging states to share best practices and craft plans that meet the needs of their teachers and students - setting teachers up for success on Day One.
States are creating innovative models for teaching and learning so teachers have the opportunity to assess their practice, build on their talents and grow as leaders in the classroom.
Great teaching inspires both in and outside of the classroom. It can lead students to uncover pathways that they might not have thought possible, or light a spark in each of us who observe the drive, compassion and ability of educators from coast to coast who are helping to shape the next generation.
I hope we can all take a cue from Teacher Appreciation Week and find ways year-round to celebrate the work of exemplary teachers across the country whose dedication to their students and the teaching profession is an inspiration to all.