- Y.E. Smith Elementary
Hillside High's Jahara Davis Wins 2023 Teacher of the Year
If you look up the word professor in the dictionary, there are two distinct definitions. One reads “a teacher of the highest rank in a college or university,” and the other is “a person who affirms a faith in or allegiance to something.”
English teacher Jahara Davis, Durham Public Schools 2023 Teacher of the Year, brings the second definition to life. She has created a community of learners for her young scholars, naming her cadre of classes at the historic Hillside High School the Village University. Every student is considered a scholar and she answers to ‘professor’ because she has high expectations.
“I want to create a collegiate culture to build students’ excitement about going to college and out into the world,” she said.
Her allegiance is to her students, and while it’s not necessarily easy, it’s just that simple.
Jahara Davis considers teaching a selfless job and she is a living testament. When her home flooded and she and her family lost everything, she was only 15 minutes late to class the day after the event. She and her children were displaced for several months, so while she and her family put their life back together, she held it together for her students as well.
In addition to the academic knowledge she imparts every day, “they need stability,” she says of students and the reason she shows up. Being their teacher, she says, is a privilege she doesn’t take for granted.
She told celebrants at the Teacher of the Year celebration on May 11: “I have overcome many trials and tribulations to get to this very moment. However, walking in my purpose and trusting in Him has placed me to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.”
Teaching is Davis’ second career. But after a stint as a substitute teacher, she realized she had a gift. She’s taught now for eight years and plans to remain in the profession.
“I hope to take the greatness I’ve learned and represent what Durham education truly represents: to embrace, to educate, and to empower. Receiving the award as DPS Teacher of the Year is much bigger than me. This award is for every student I have had the privilege to inspire and touch over the last eight years. I am a small part of their journey, yet they have been the focal point of mine,” said Davis, who says she was called to teach and inspire students who yearned and needed representation like her.
Her desire is to be the nurturing role model that she saw exemplified during her childhood, validating her students' culture and lived experiences. Her motivation comes from her students who give her hope, and she reciprocates by offering and imparting lessons that are both academic and holistic.
Davis says her teaching superpower is innovation, which allows her to build positive student-teacher relationships and create monumental educational moments. She was influenced by several Black women educators, including her Oma (grandmother), mother, and older cousin who modeled what it looked like to show up as your authentic self every day in a pursuit of knowledge.