Really big news today:
Sydney Chaffee, a ninth-grade humanities teacher from Boston, has been named National Teacher of the Year, making her the first teacher from Massachusetts — and the first working in a charter school — to win the honor.
Chaffee will spend the next year traveling the country, talking with teachers and serving as an ambassador for their profession. She’s taking on that responsibility at a time when education policy is even more intensely politicized than usual, as President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have sought to promote parents’ access to charter schools, private-school vouchers and other alternatives to public schools.
And what will Sydney do with her year as an ambassador for all teachers?
Chaffee said that she intends to use her platform to send the message that “public schools are the best schools” — and that charter schools are public schools that are strongest when they’re held accountable for students’ performance.
“The conversation needs to be rooted in what are all of our public schools doing, and how can they work together to make sure that kids are getting the best education possible?” she said.
Can I take a minute to call out the elephant in the room?
Sydney is a charter school teacher.
Unfortunately way too often our charter school teachers are vilified for having the audacity to work in these dungeons of hell that are systemically destroying education one high performing school at a time. Their credentials, education, abilities and commitment are questioned on a regular basis for the simple fact that they don’t pay dues out of their paycheck to a third party organization the negotiate their employment terms on their behalf.
I’ve been with groups of charter school teachers who have expressed their frustration — even to the point of tears — because they are vilified on a daily basis for making the choice to teach in schools that have the ability to reach children in innovative ways and accept lower salaries because of the direct impact they are able to make in the lives of our children. That’s wrong.
Charter teachers aren’t stupid. They know they could get a job at the school down the street and make $30-$40k more a year in a union job. But they teach at charter schools because they believe in the investment they are making in bringing innovation to education and the children they are bringing new opportunities to every day.
To Sydney — and all of our teachers who have devoted their lives to educating our children and making a difference, we see you and we appreciate you. As a parent with kids in Catholic, district and charter schools — our dream is to be able to have truly talented educators give our children the chance to access the high quality education they deserve — and we don’t care what they call the building where it happens. To our charter school teachers, who often have to overcome bullying, belittling, threats and intimidation from your professional peers for taking the chance on bringing new ideas to education, we love you and we appreciate you.
It would have been a class move to see the Boston Teachers Union or the Massachusetts Teachers Association congratulate her on this incredible achievement. But being the petty groups they are and adopting the attitude that "any collaboration with charters is an acknowledgement and validation of their existence" will prohibit them from doing so. I hope they prove me wrong. Parents are tired of your meaningless turf wars and refusal to put your political jockeying aside to do the right thing for kids. We don’t care about your agenda, we’re here to put the agenda that benefits children first.
We are damn lucky to have Sydney as a teacher in Dorchester.
A Massachusetts public school teacher. The best in the nation. A charter school teacher.
Proud of you, girl. Knock ’em dead this year.
What do you think?