When Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of Year, decided to run for office, she was thinking about her students.
She wondered: “Who will speak for them? Who will share their story with the world?,” she explains in a campaign video released Thursday.
“Teachers are nation-builders,” she says. “That’s our job: To effect change, to improve outcomes. Isn’t that the same job of Congress?”
Hayes is running as a Democratic candidate for an open seat in Connecticut’s fifth district. A former history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Conn., she is now the talent and professional-development supervisor for the Waterbury public schools. Hayes will face off against Mary Glassman, a former town selectwoman who won the state Democratic party’s endorsement last month, in the Democratic primary on Aug. 14.
If Hayes is elected in November, she’ll be the first black woman to represent Connecticut in Congress. This is her first bid for elective office.
This year, in the wake of teacher strikes and protests, dozens of teachers have filed to run for office across the country. As my colleague Madeline Will reported, educators in states that saw teacher activism this spring are looking to harness that momentum and launch campaigns for state seats.
But Hayes—who is running in a state that hasn’t see large-scale teacher labor actions recently—is also part of another wave: A record number of women are running for House seats this year, with the greatest gains coming from Democratic women.
‘I’m a Fighter’
People from her neighborhood “aren’t supposed to run for Congress,” said Hayes, in her campaign video. Hayes grew up in a housing project in Waterbury and became a mother while still in high school. Her own mother struggled with addiction during Hayes’ childhood.
Facing and overcoming these obstacles have prepared her to be a fierce representative for her community, said Hayes.
“I’m a fighter,” Hayes told the Hartford Courant. “Time and time again, I have had doors shut in my face and have had to walk around and knock on the back door.’'
Education issues are front and center in Hayes’ policy platform. “Education saved my life, and I will ensure that all children from all communities have access to a high-quality education,” she writes on her campaign website.
Her platform calls for more resources and support for teachers, affordable college, and access to career training for students. She also supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, single-payer healthcare, gun control, environmental protection, and initiatives to combat racial discrimination and injustice.
Hayes has been endorsed by the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who is widely rumored to be making a 2020 presidential bid.
Watch Hayes’ campaign video below.
Glassman, the other Democratic candidate, has also focused on education in her platform. She has pledged to advocate for more funding for quality preschool programs, combat student loan debt, and implement cooperative purchasing across school districts.
Photo: The 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes, left, pumps her fist in the air as she is acknowledged by President Barack Obama during a ceremony honoring her in 2016 at the White House. —Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP-File.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.