BOSTON (CBS/AP) – The 2017 “National Teacher of the Year’ award has gone to a public charter school teacher in Dorchester.
Sydney Chaffee of the Codman Academy Charter Public School is the first National Teacher of the Year from Massachusetts since the inception of the award 65 years ago. She’s also believed to be the first from a charter school to win the award.
Chaffee is a ninth grade humanities teacher who has also taught English language arts and social studies at the school since 2007.
The Council of Chief State School Officers, which gives out the award, said Chaffee “focuses on the intersection of history and literature to help her students learn from lessons of the past to make change in the world.” She also “encourages her students to take risks by creating a safe environment in her classroom for diverse learners,” the organization said.
“I want my students to understand that they are powerful and that they can make change in the world,” Chaffee said Thursday on CBS This Morning. “This award is so humbling because I’m always thinking about how I can be better at this job.”
Chaffee leads the school’s partnership with the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, which provides acting classes to all freshmen and sophomores at the school. It’s meant to help students find their voices and learn communication skills. It’s also a soft spot for Chaffee, who fondly remembers acting in her high-school plays and later performing as a stand-up comic and in improv comedy.
“Some of that training has helped me as a teacher because, being a teacher, you’re performing all the time in front of your kids, and figuring out how to hook them and how to get them engaged,” said Chaffee, who now spends most of her spare time raising her 2-year-old daughter with her husband.
She also talked to WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens about what makes a good teacher.
“A good teacher is someone who wants to build relationships with students, who keeps students at the center of everything that they do, and who constantly works to get better,” Chaffee said.
Students said “Sydney” – the school encourages all pupils to call teachers by their first names – motives everyone in the classroom to do their best.
“It’s weird, but she can relate to us,” one student told CBS This Morning. “She’s like a tall adult white lady talking to a bunch of black kids.”
Chaffee was named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year in May 2016.
“We are all incredibly proud of Ms. Chaffee and thrilled to see a member of Massachusetts’ strong teaching force represented at the national level,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. “Ms. Chaffee’s commitment to her students and relentless drive to continually improve her teaching is a model for all of us.”
As the National Teacher of the Year, Chaffee will spend a year advocating for teachers across the United States.
The winner of the national award is traditionally recognized by the president at a White House ceremony soon after being chosen. The Council of Chief State School Officers says no White House event has been confirmed, yet.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)