Social Justice in Schools
We heard from Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year, for the November 2018 installment of NAAEE's monthly webinar series. In Sydney's own words, she believes "Social justice belongs in our schools. Each of our students deserves access to a transformative, equitable education. Teachers are experts in education. Vulnerability is brave."
Sydney Chaffee is a National Board Certified Teacher with a passion for helping diverse learners grow through authentic, relevant, interdisciplinary curricula. Sydney believes that education is an essential tool to work towards social justice. It can transform students’ self-perceptions and arm them to fight for a more just world. Throughout the school year, Sydney and her students seek to answer big questions: What is justice? How have people resisted injustice throughout history? What power do people have to change the world?
Sydney decided to become a teacher after being inspired by her professors at Sarah Lawrence College, who lit intellectual fires in her with great books and powerful questions. After earning her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence in 2005, Sydney moved to Boston to become a National Teaching Fellow at Citizen Schools’ 8th Grade Academy, where she learned to infuse the hard work of teaching and learning with joy. As part of her work at Citizen Schools, Sydney also coordinated the Boston Public Library’s Homework Assistance Program and earned an M.Ed. from Lesley University in 2007.
Since 2007, Sydney has been the ninth grade Humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School. Sydney believes that intelligence is not fixed; all students can learn with appropriate supports and challenges. Her students build literacy skills through a unique partnership with Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company that culminates in a play set during a historical era students have studied. Students also internalize and apply what they have learned through collaborative projects, including a mock trial based on South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission and regular class discussions about complex texts.
In addition to teaching, Sydney has served as Humanities Department Chair, co-coordinator of a weekly all-school Community Circle, and a mentor teacher for pre-service teachers from Tufts University and Boston University. Outside of school, Sydney was a part-time faculty member at Boston University’s School of Education, a TeachPlus Policy Fellow, an EdX Policy Fellow, and facilitator of a Boston Educators Collaborative course that brought together teachers from district, charter, and parochial schools to collaborate on curriculum design.
In the spring and summer of 2013, Sydney worked as a consultant on EL Education’s curriculum design project, collaborating with educators from across the country to write 8th grade curricular modules. Since their publication, these curricula have been downloaded more than 3 million times and implemented by over 1,000 schools nationwide.
As 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, Sydney appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with her colleagues across the state, advocate for the profession to be elevated and respected, and continue to learn from her students. As 2017 National Teacher of the Year, she was able to speak to a wider audience about the value of public education for all students, the possibilities of integrating arts education into traditional academic disciplines, the importance of teacher learning, and the role of education in social justice movements.
Sydney lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Matt; daughter, Zoe; and many, many books.