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Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year

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Sydney Chaffee will be giving a talk, “Come Outside: The Future of Education” at Bay Path University on February 13, 2018; 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm in Mills Theatre on the Longmeadow campus. The event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited.

Sydney Chaffee never thought she was going to be a teacher. From the moment she enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College, she envisioned her life as a poet. But when this Saugerties, New York, native took a master poetry class, her teacher gave her a life changing piece of advice: you are not meant to be a poet. By this time she was already in love with the classroom and all things connected to learning. Perhaps, she thought, I should be a professor.  

Then Chaffee took a class with Professor Lyde Cullen Sizer, whose parents are Ted and Nancy Sizer, noted educators and authors whose ideas and works challenged longstanding practices in America’s secondary schools. Encouraged to read Theodore Sizer’s Horace’s Compromise: the Dilemma of the American High School, Chaffee had an epiphany. That summer she took a job teaching 7th grade and she knew what she wanted to do when she graduated: be a teacher. 

Today, Chaffee is a faculty member at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston. She doesn’t teach one subject, but takes an interdisciplinary approach combining English, world history and theater in a way that is authentic, real, and relevant for her students. 

Her work did not go unnoticed, and her principal began a campaign to get Chaffee recognized for her efforts. “We just took it one step at a time. I really wasn’t expecting anything,” states Chaffee. “When I went down to Washington, D.C., I knew there was a possibility to be the Teacher of the Year. Still, when I finally got the phone call telling me I was selected, I was shocked and surprised.” She is the first teacher selected for this honor from Massachusetts, and from a charter school. 

Chaffee is now on sabbatical from Codman Academy, and has been speaking all over the country. Her travels have taken her to over 20 states and abroad (Ethiopia, Israel, and Palestine).

“What has struck me is that I have seen that teachers have much more in common than what we may think. At the core, we are very similar: eager to see our students succeed.”

This experience has also given Chaffee an opportunity to step out of the classroom and have “an influence and voice” for teachers. What’s next on the horizon? Chaffee wants to take what she has learned and coach other teachers to step into leadership roles. To make the classroom a space where social and emotional learning are practiced—teaching to the entire student.