Sydney Chaffee ’05

Sydney Chaffee '05Sydney Chaffee '05 teaches humanities at the Codman Academy Charter Public School. She is the 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and has been named a finalist for National Teacher of the Year.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence?
I wanted to be a poet. I was drawn in by the “You are different. So are we.” slogan, and I fell in love with the idea of small classes filled with smart people who were excited about learning.

Plus, my older sister (Chelsea Chaffee Parsons '00) went to Sarah Lawrence, and I wanted to do everything she did.

What was your favorite class?
Every class I took with Lyde Sizer was my favorite class. Lyde is brilliant. She taught me how to think. She would ask these incisive questions while we walked all over campus during our conferences, and I became a better writer and scholar as a result. Her expectations for her students are incredibly high, but she also exudes real warmth and caring. Her classes become little families. Lyde is the kind of teacher I strive to be.

I also have Lyde to thank for the fact that I’m in education now; she introduced me to Horace’s Compromise, her father’s book, and sent me off to do an internship at the Fannie Lou Hamer school in the Bronx. That’s when I began to realize that I was a teacher.

What was your favorite spot on campus?
One of my favorite spots on campus was on the upper level of the library, past the Pillow Room on the left. There was a section of Women’s History books tucked back there that I loved to explore when I was researching for my conference projects. That part of the library was always empty, so I could sit on a little metal footstool in the stacks and find the book I was looking for, then three or four other books sitting nearby that also looked good. It was nerdy feminist book heaven. (My high school students would laugh at me if they saw that this was my answer!)

How do you integrate what you learned at Sarah Lawrence into the classroom?
Everything I did at Sarah Lawrence was interdisciplinary, and that has stuck with me as a teacher. Now, I teach Humanities, so I get to weave history and English together, which just feels right. My students learn about history through literature, and they build their literacy skills by reading and writing about history. It’s an authentic way to learn.

What is your favorite subject to teach?
My 9th grade Humanities class is called “Justice and Injustice.” Fourteen-year-olds have a finely-tuned sense of justice, and exploring history with them through that lens is a lot of fun. Within that broad topic, my favorite moment in history to teach is the 1976 Soweto Uprising in South Africa. In learning about the various ways that South Africans resisted the injustices of apartheid, Soweto becomes a case study of young people’s voices and power. It’s compelling for the students, and it sticks with them. Discussing Soweto with my kids allows them to make connections between the past and the present, which is, to me, the beauty of teaching history.