Education can be a tool for social justice. What do I mean by that? As educators, it is our job to prove to our students that adults will listen to them. It is up to us to inspire confidence in them that they do have the power to effect change. It is our responsibility to ensure that they are equipped with the tools to insist on a more equitable world. But living up to this vision of our roles as educators is not always easy. Sometimes, our kids will point out the ways in which systems we have set-up or in which we are complicit contribute to the inequity. They will push us to engage in uncomfortable conversations. Their curiosity will force us to question our own assumptions and beliefs.
As Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee is committed to taking risks for her students and, as National Teacher of the Year, will encourage all educators to take risks -on their students, on each other and on themselves.
As a humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston, Sydney takes risks every day to improve learning for all of her students. In the classroom, she strives to create lessons that demonstrate how education can be a transformative tool for social justice, and she encourages her students to see themselves as having the power to make change in the world based on lessons from the past.
"Education must be authentic. There is no use in studying history if we believe it to be static and irrelevant to the future," she says. "Authentic learning enables students to see and create connections in the world around them."
She tries to infuse the hard work of learning with joy, not only in her classroom but throughout the school. For example, she is the coordinator of a schoolwide Community Circle every Thursday where all students in the school come together to celebrate successes, share good news and dig into serious conversations together.
As the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, Sydney is looking forward to advocating for all teachers to take risks on behalf of their students and giving a voice to the issues that affect her students.
"When smart, driven teachers are given time and space to collaborate, we can help all of our students in all of our schools succeed. We have a lot of work to do, but we can achieve so much for kids when we commit-together-to being simultaneously optimistic and daring," she says.
Sydney has taught for the past 10 years, 9 of which have been in her current role. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and a Masters of Education from Lesley University. Sydney is a National Board Certified Teacher.