Friday, July 7, 2017

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year, to the 96th NEA Representative Assembly | Fred Klonsky

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year, to the 96th NEA Representative Assembly | Fred Klonsky:

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year, to the 96th NEA Representative Assembly

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National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee.


BOSTON – July 03, 2017 –
Thank you all for welcoming me here today. I deeply respect you and the work of this organization. This room is full of people who have committed their lives to education — whether as teachers, ESPs, administrators, or other leadership roles — and it’s an honor to be able to talk with you.
In his book “Teaching Toward Freedom,” William Ayers wrote, “To be human is to live alone on the nerve islands of our bodies. To connect with another is to imagine with sympathy. The bridge of humanity is constructed of imagination, a certain kind of imagination, mediated by words.” I read that book very early in my career, and that idea — human connection as a feat of empathetic imagination — has stuck with me. We may not be able to step inside of each other’s heads, as humans, but I think sometimes that our work as teachers is to try.
I remember when President Obama was elected for the first time. The next morning, I went into my classroom, ready to talk with my students about his historic election and hear their reactions to it — after they did the Do Now, of course. I stood at the front of my room with my clipboard, taking attendance the same way I did every day, but I only had one student in the room. There he sat, in his assigned seat right in the middle of the room, facing me, as I checked off a little box next to his name. We looked at each other, looked at the clock, looked at each other. After a few minutes, he asked, “Where is everybody?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but they’re late.”
We heard a commotion outside and saw some of his classmates running past the window. Then my principal at the time burst through the door. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Come outside!”
We followed him to the busy intersection outside and saw the rest of the school — students and staff — standing there on the corner. Some people held up that day’s paper with a huge picture of President Obama on the front. Others had grabbed mini-whiteboards from classrooms and written, “Honk for Obama” on them. The scene was messy, loud, and joyous.
Standing there still holding my clipboard, a symbol of the rules and routines that made school feel orderly and productive to me, I realized that my stubborn insistence on sticking to the plan and following the rules had been silly. My neat little plan wasn’t Remarks as prepared for delivery by Sydney Chaffee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year, to the 96th NEA Representative Assembly | Fred Klonsky:

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