Sydney Chaffee and two of her students at Codman Academy celebrate in May 2016, when she was named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.
Sydney Chaffee and two of her students at Codman Academy celebrate in May 2016, when she was named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff/file

THE TEACHER

Sydney Chaffee: The charter school teacher who got the nation’s attention

With state and now national honors under her belt, she’s teaching other schools what she knows about how students can change the world.

Sydney Chaffee was molding Play-Doh with her daughter on her kitchen floor one evening this past April when her phone rang. On the line was someone from the Council of Chief State School Officers; she’d been named National Teacher of the Year.

Chaffee couldn’t believe it. True, she’d been named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year in 2016. But no Massachusetts teacher had won the national honor in its 65 years. Neither has a charter school teacher, and she teaches ninth-grade humanities at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester. “I thought it was too politically charged for [the winner] to be a charter school teacher,” says Chaffee, 34.

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Chaffee earned the prize because while her students learn history they learn how they, too, can make a mark on society. She’s had a positive impact in and outside the classroom, through starting a school-wide discussion program. “Enabling our kids to build the skills they need to work for change in the world is something we should be doing in schools,” she says. In her role as Teacher of the Year, she’s spending the school year visiting classrooms from Albuquerque to Bloomington, Indiana, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Ramallah, in the West Bank. She also speaks to teacher groups and policy makers.

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She enjoys the interaction but she’s looking forward to being back with her ninth-graders in Dorchester. “I really miss the kids,” she says. “Teaching is what I love.”

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