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The less than perfect teacher

National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee hopes to dispel the myth of the flawless teacher.

3 min read

Voice of the Educator



Sydney Chaffee, named National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers , is not the perfect teacher. In fact, she claims there is no such thing.

“It’s important that we reject this idea that certain teachers are just magical and wonderful all the time,” Chaffee said in an interview on Education Talk Radio. “Teaching is a constant learning process. We’re constantly going to be learning to get better. And the way we get better is the same way our kids get better: we mess up, and we learn.”

Chaffee is spending this year traveling in the US and abroad to learn from and speak with other thought leaders in education. Her recent blog post, “Rejecting the myth of the ‘super teacher’,” earned an Editor’s Choice Content Award from SmartBrief.

Social justice in the classroom

For the past nine years, Chaffee has taught “Justice and Injustice,” an interdisciplinary humanities course to ninth-graders at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston, Mass. Her students’ projects, including several annual performances with the Huntington Theatre Group, focus on addressing and understanding justice issues around the world.

In her class, Chaffee said she teaches students to challenge the idea that there’s a single right answer when learning about history. “The story of history really depends on who’s telling it,” she said. Her students read jarring texts, including an excerpt from “A Young People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, which presents Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America from the Native Americans’ point of view. They discuss the ramifications of author bias and the importance of reframing historical understanding. Chaffee is fascinated to see her students become, in her words, “increasingly aware of what’s happening in the world.”

From a disorderly class, inspiration

In her award-winning article, Chaffee recalls an interaction with a reporter who observed one of her rowdier class periods. While playing a review game, students struggled to stay engaged. Some were disrespectful to those on opposing teams.

“Yes, it was messy. Yes, I was kind of playing whack a mole to get everyone to stay focused and stay in their seats and do what they needed to do;” Chaffee allowed in the interview. “but also, there was a level of engagement from certain students in the class who had not been engaged for weeks prior.”

The excitement coming from those students inspired Chaffee.

“Our classes are going to be messy, because we are in a classroom with 15, 20, 30 adolescents,” she said. However, “in that messiness, you’re going to come across beauty.”


Sydney Chaffee is a recent winner of the monthly Editor’s Choice Content Award. Want to hear more? Listen to the full Education Talk Radio interview.

Teresa Donnellan is an editorial assistant for SmartBrief.


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