Sydney Chaffee honored as 2017 National Teacher of the Year

One of Sydney Chaffee’s students describes her as “blunt, calm and nice at the same time.” Others in her classroom in Dorchester, Massachusetts, say she’s “a good listener” – simply “the best.”

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Sydney Chaffee  

CBS News

Chaffee, who’s among the 3.1 million teachers who educate the 50.4 million public school students across the country, was honored Thursday as the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. The 9th grade humanities teacher has spent 10 years at Codman Academy, a charter public school where 98 percent of the students are minorities and 75 percent of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. One hundred percent of Codman Academy’s graduates are accepted into college.

The magic behind her effectiveness and popularity is a “deep desire to make change and to build relationships with kids.”

“I want my students to understand that they are powerful and that they can make change in the world. That whatever the future is that they want to see, they have the power and they have the agency to make that happen, and so that’s at the core of everything that we’re doing,” Chaffee said on “CBS This Morning.”

At Codman Academy, it’s school policy for the students call teachers by their first names.

“We want to just sort of show that we’re on the same level, and it’s a community and we have relationships,” Chaffee said.

She also stresses social justice in her classroom.

“We learn a lot about history, and the history of people who have been oppressed and the history of people who have been marginalized and how those people have fought for justice,” Chaffee explained. “So we learn about resistance movements and then we sort of relate that to today and say, ‘OK, so what can we learn from this, and how will you be a powerful person in the world?’”

As a teacher, she recognizes that she herself can always learn more.

“So this award is so humbling because I always am thinking about how I can be better at this job, and I know that all of my colleagues are always thinking that too. And so that’s another part of the magic ... that teachers understand that we’re learners. We’re always learners and we model that for our kids,” Chaffee said.