Jahana Hayes, a history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Conn., didn’t even think she would become a teacher when she was growing up, better yet the National Teacher of the Year. But with the help of some teachers in her own life, she was able to set higher standards for herself than what was expected in her local community.

Now, Hayes not only excels in the classroom, but encourages students to play a role in their neighborhoods through community service and fundraising, according to the Root.

While President Obama introduced her for her award, Hayes stood to his side with a smile from ear to ear and even caught notice from the commander-in-chief.

“This is what makes her a great teacher,” Obama said, according to Huffington Post. “You can’t be great if you’re not enthusiastic. You’ve got to love what you do, and she loves what she does.”

Hayes spent a portion of her acceptance speech thanking her own teachers for playing a role in her education and career.

“They challenged me to imagine myself in a different set of circumstances, no matter how difficult,” Hayes said. “They encouraged me to do more, be more, expect more, and become the first in my family to go to college. They inspired me to become a teacher so I could make the same kind of impact in my own students’ lives — a teacher whose influence extends beyond the classroom.”

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