Ladies and gentlemen, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year is Jahana Hayes from Connecticut! She's an amazing educator and a friend and will represent our profession very well! I can’t wait to see what this journey holds for her and I encourage you to follow her on social media to keep up with all the great things she does! Her Twitter handle is @JahanaHayes.
When Jahana, Nate (WA), Daniel (CA) and I met in D.C. for our interviews for NTOY, we knew the judges had a difficult task ahead of them. Each of us brings diverse backgrounds and experience to the table and we are proud to represent our schools, our communities, and our states. We are passionate about the profession we love. Status quo is not an option. And what I need you to know is that all of the 2016 State Teachers of the Year are similar in this regard. Status quo will not suffice. We came to shake things up and make things better for our students, schools, colleagues and communities. You will see all 56 of us together in Washington D.C. next week and you should know that all of us are working hard behind the scenes to professionalize our work and make public schools the best they can be.
I admit that it took me a while to process that I was not selected as NTOY. After I received the call notifying me I had not been picked, I let out a sigh of disappointment and then said out loud, “I trust You, God. You’ve given me so much already and I am thankful for it all. I trust You.” I wanted to claim the title for my state so badly. I had spent the year telling people that it had been 16 years since an Oklahoma educator had been a finalist for NTOY and 52 years since one was selected. I wanted to bring it back. All year long, since I had stepped out of the classroom for my year of service and travels, people had rallied around me. I felt like I had let them all down.
But past experiences have taught me to let it go and to embrace what I believed - trust Him. There was a time when what I wanted most was to proudly wear a uniform and serve in the United States Air Force. That dream failed to materialize after I was medically disqualified one month prior to commissioning in 2007, and then again when I reapplied in 2008. It simply wasn’t meant to be. I gave it my all and I represented Oklahoma the best I could, so I hope my friends and family don’t feel disappointed. Instead, I hope you are proud of how far we made it and how we are challenging perceptions of what educators in our state are capable of doing!
While we’re all striving to make changes, the odds are stacked against us. We are underfunded, underpaid, overworked and face insurmountable inequalities. But we won’t let up. And that’s true of all the best educators out there. One thing I learned from my experience this year is that Oklahoma has some of the best teachers in the country. I know this because I’ve met many of the best teachers in the country and Okie educators are on par with them. We do so much with so little - and while that is most certainly unacceptable - it is a testament to the resiliency, innovation, and true skill that our teachers possess.
So at this point, I want to say THANK YOU to Norman High School, to my school district, to the City of Norman, and to the people of this great state! Thank you for lifting me up and giving me the opportunity to shine on behalf of all the great teachers in Norman, Moore, Edmond, Cordell, Glenpool, Broken Arrow, Ada, Ardmore, Weatherford, Alva, Tahlequah, Haworth, Mustang, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton, Noble, Anadarko, Byng, Deer Creek, Midwest City, McAlester, Stillwater, Shawnee, Muskogee, Chickasha and beyond. I have met teachers in all of those places and I have faces, names and stories of the successes and failures that we, as a collective, have experienced this year. Thank you for doing what you do and for serving our students. My only goal this year was to boost your morale and inspire you to get involved. I hope I accomplished that.
I want to thank the students and faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City University, Oral Roberts, Oklahoma Christian, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Baptist, East Central University, Oklahoma State University, Northeastern State University, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, and the University of Central Oklahoma. It was an honor to visit with you all! To the future educators, my only goal was to validate your decision to enter the teaching profession. I hope I met that goal.
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! I only have one question: who’s next?! My story and journey cannot be an anomaly. This can’t be a one-time deal for Oklahoma. Who will carry the torch for us?
My time as Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year is near an end but I have new endeavors in the works. I am running for State Senate District 15, which covers much of Norman and parts of Moore, OKC and Del City. Having spent the year traveling our state, I can’t in good conscience simply return to my classroom at Norman High and pretend that I haven’t seen the things I’ve seen. What’s happening in our state is unacceptable. This budget shortfall must be fixed and while I’m no economist, I am a math teacher and I know the numbers don’t add up. We need to review our tax policies and diversify our revenue sources. Everything else is dependent upon our ability to fix this funding crisis. I invite you to like my Facebook page. You can also visit my website www.sheehanforok.com for more information.
Running as an Independent is not an accident. I registered as an Independent when I was eighteen. I believe bipartisan politics are part of the reason we’re in this mess. My constituents need to know that I am not beholden to a party. There are no hidden agendas - I simply want to represent the people in my district and in our state with as much integrity as I can.
That’s all I want to say about politics right now. I’m still moving forward with the Teach Like Me Campaign and making it a non-profit. I believe with the budget cuts, low-cost/free professional learning opportunities will be hard to come by. I think that’s where Teach Like Me, Inc. can fill a void. More to come.
Lastly, I want to thank my friends and family for being there for me. For watching the cat and dog while Kaysi and I were away. For listening to me rant. For sharing/liking/retweeting my posts. And for keeping me grounded! I am blessed with wonderful in-laws, so my sincere thanks to the Sullivent family. And last, but not nearly in the least, thank you to my wife, Kaysi. Thank you for enjoying the highs and lows of this rollercoaster ride with me. I promise I’ll stop trying to take on new titles like Teacher of the Year and Senator (after this election season). I love you with my whole being and I can’t wait until our little one arrives in the fall!