Selected from thousands of nominees, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year honor went to Jahana Hayes, a history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Hayes' care and belief that every single student can learn has propelled her to become the beloved teacher she is today.
"Everyone has a gift, and I think that once you figure out what that gift is, and you make a connection with them and meet them wherever they are, that learning occurs," Hayes said Thursday in an exclusive interview on "CBS This Morning."
Hayes grew up in Waterbury herself, surrounded by poverty, drugs and violence. She became a teen mom when she was 17.
"So it was very troubling for me, because when this happened, I had to go to an alternative program. It was a teenage parent program, and I was like, 'I'm still really smart. I don't understand why now I have to go to a different school, get a different quality of education,'" Hayes recalled during a Facebook Live conversation with Gayle King.
But having been an "excellent" student in high school, she was determined to not give up on her dreams. Hayes went on to become the first in her family to attend college and graduate school.
"I was raised by my community, so I don't take the responsibility lightly of being a teacher because I know that that role doesn't end at the classroom," Hayes said. "For me, there were so many people outside of their traditional role who stepped up and were impactful."
Regardless of their location or who their parents are, Hayes said she believes students deserve to be educated in the same way.
"I reject the idea that in this country, in 2016, that the education you receive is contingent upon who you are and where you live," Hayes stressed.
Community service has been a pillar of Hayes' teaching philosophy.
"I think that so much of our focus has been graduating students who are self-sustaining. I think we need to graduate citizens," Hayes said. "We need to graduate people who care about their neighbors, who will be conscientious, productive members of society. This is the nation that I want to see moving forward. So that is so important to me. And I think that so much has been given to me that I feel obligated to make that a part of who I am."
As National Teacher of the Year, Hayes said she is looking forward to starting a dialogue that includes those who have not been part of the education conversation before.
"Community members, church organizations, businesses -- education is about everybody working together," Hayes said. "I am excited about bringing my values about service learning and giving back to communities to a national platform, and hopefully inspiring other teachers to do the same. What that means and what it looks like, I'm not really sure."
Watch the video above to see Hayes' students react to the announcement that she won the National Teacher of the Year award.
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