Every year in April, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) awards a very special title: National Teacher of the Year. For 65 years, the nonprofit agency has supported and scrutinized teachers in all U.S. territories. They have no official standing or powers, but they promote cooperation between school administrations and their teachers, from the state level down to the classroom.
This year, their winner is a first in two ways. Sydnee Chaffee, who teaches freshman humanities at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, is the first winner from Massachusetts in the history of the competition. And she’s also the first winner from a charter school.
“I thought it was too politically charged for it to be a charter school teacher,” said Chaffee to the Boston Globe. Charter schools are particularly controversial right now, with the current Secretary for Education promoting them at the budgeting expense of public schools. But a good teacher is a good teacher.
“Education must be authentic. There is no use in studying history if we believe it to be static and irrelevant to the future,” said Chaffee in her bio on the CCSSO’s website. “Authentic learning enables students to see and create connections in the world around them.”
Social justice and interpersonal communication are the cores of her educational gestalt. At Codman Academy, she coordinated Community Circle, a school-wide period held every week for students to come together and share their success and struggles, whether academic or external.
As Teacher of the Year, Chaffee will spend this school year traveling not just American schools but schools worldwide to share her perspectives on education with teachers, and more importantly, with those who organize schools and set policies. Hopefully her influence will see a fresh wave of communication between schools and their students. She also intends to speak up about teachers needing to take risks on behalf of their students.