Teacher of the year talks about challenges and rewards of being a teacher

Sydney Chaffee (center) sat with former student Latanya Simpson (left) and Chief of Education Rahn Dorsey during a ceremony honoring Chaffee as the 2017 National Teacher of the Year.
Sydney Chaffee (center) sat with former student Latanya Simpson (left) and Chief of Education Rahn Dorsey during a ceremony honoring Chaffee as the 2017 National Teacher of the Year.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Sydney Chaffee, a teacher at Codman Academy Charter School in Dorchester, was named National Teacher of the Year on Thursday. She was the first educator from Massachusetts, as well as the first charter school teacher, to win the honor.

In the classroom, Chaffee focuses on the intersection of history and literature, with lessons that seek to empower her students while teaching the importance of social justice.

On Friday, the Globe spoke with Chaffee about her experience as a teacher and what advice she would give to aspiring educators.

What made you get into teaching?

I just had really great teachers during high school and college. They taught me how exciting and enjoyable it is to learn and I wanted to give that experience back to the students I teach.


Did you have any mentors during your early years as a teacher?

Yes, Lyde Cullen Sizer. She’s a history professor at Sarah Lawrence College. She’s just really incredible. She’s been a mentor of mine for years. She’s honestly the teacher that I want to be.

Teaching is a hard job. What are some of your favorite parts? What aspects pose a challenge?

My favorite part would have to be watching students learn. You get these students who don’t know that learning is fun or that subjects can be interesting and then, all of sudden, you find something they’re passionate about and it’s like their entire world lights up. They really find their voices and that’s great to watch.

The biggest challenge comes from having so many different kinds of learners. You have to ensure that everyone can learn to communicate and get a good education, but it’s hard sometimes.”

What tips would you give to aspiring teachers?

I had five tips published by the Council of Chief State School Officers last week. Some of those are:


Be honest with your students. If you don’t know something, tell them.

Take care of yourself. Teaching is an amazing job, but it is also difficult. In order to care for the students, you have to take care of yourself.

See your students as whole people. Ask yourself, ‘What is going on outside of this class, or outside of school, that is affecting this student?’

Is there any particular historical figure you like to teach about?

The one I like to teach about the most is Steve Biko. He was a activist working to end apartheid in South Africa and the unofficial leader of the Black Consciousness Movement. My students look to what he did and see connections to the activists they see today. Really, it’s a privilege to teach my students about him.

Have you seen “Hamilton”?

Oh, gosh! I haven’t, but I need to. It would be right up my alley. I heard that it’s coming to Boston, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to look up the dates or anything. It’s definitely something I want to see.

Andrew Grant can be reached at andrew.grant@globe.com.