DORCHESTER (CBS) — For the first time in its 65-year history, the award for National Teacher of the Year has gone to a teacher from Massachusetts.
Sydney Chaffee got her masters degree in education at Lesley University, and teaches humanities at Dorchester’s Codman Academy.
At a Friday celebration at the Huntington Theater, Gov. Charlie Baker called her the Larry Bird or Michael Jordan of education–but Chaffee has stayed humble, even after her whirlwind week.
“I think I do a lot of the things that great teachers do, and that’s why I’m being recognized,” she told WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben.
But colleagues describe Chaffee as a force of nature with a dynamic personality.
“She’s a great example of the drive, the force, the willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure more students grow and learn,” said Thabiti Brown, Head of School at Codman Academy.
Chaffee made history as both the first winner from Massachusetts and the first from a charter school.
“My message about charters is that charters are public schools, and that public schools and public education are essential, and we need to do what we can to make sure that we’re working together as public school teachers to make sure all kids have access to a great education,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee is very aware of what her students need from her.
“Students need to know that I believe in them,” she said. “They need to know that I believe that they can achieve.”
That message was received by former student Latanya Simpson, who is now a freshman at Providence College.
“Honestly, as a student of color I was just very insecure sometimes about my education,” said Simpson. “But Sydney just always pushed me and never gave up, and I honestly feel like the confidence I have today has a lot to do with Sydney’s work with me.”
“So it’s not that I have some special magic that other teachers don’t have,” Chaffee explained. “It’s about great teachers doing great work, and I get to speak on behalf of them.”
As National Teacher of the Year, Chaffee will travel the country speaking at education conferences and sharing her success with other teachers in the classroom.