Boston teachers union will welcome Chaffee

Date Published: 
June 2, 2017
Michael Jonas

THE MASSACHUSETTS TEACHERS ASSOCIATION may not be interested in hearing from Sydney Chaffee, the Boston charter school educator who was recently named National Teacher of the Year, but the Boston Teachers Union wants her to come address its members.

Richard Stutman, the longtime president of the union representing Boston Public Schools teachers, said his leadership team discussed the idea several weeks ago and he expects Chaffee to be invited to come speak to a BTU membership meeting sometime in the fall.

“She’s an excellent teacher, one of many, and we’re glad for her,” Stutman said of Chaffee’s award.

The BTU stance is a sharp contrast to that of the Mass. Teachers Association, which not only didn’t invite Chaffee to talk at its annual convention last month, it voted down a motion put forward by a longtime MTA member to extend congratulations to Chaffee on the national award.

The move set off a chorus of criticism of the union, which seems to be still fighting the ballot campaign it won last year to halt expansion of charter schools in the state. Chaffee, who teaches 9th grade humanities at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, is the first Massachusetts educator ever named National Teacher of the Year and is apparently the first charter school teacher ever recognized with the honor.

Stutman, who is retiring this month after 14 years as head of the Boston union, said contrasting the very different approaches taken by the two unions is “comparing apples and oranges.”

The MTA and BTU unions are not affiliated. While the MTA and its district affiliates across the state are members of the National Education Association, the BTU is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Nationally, AFT affiliates tend to be based in larger urban district systems, including New York City. In Massachusetts, the MTA represents the lion’s share of all teachers – urban, suburban, and rural.

Stutman said Codman Academy “has relationships with our schools, and so it’s a totally different situation.” He said Codman Academy and some Boston district public schools have partnered to conduct joint professional development training.

Chaffee is taking part in the Boston Educators Collaborative, a program of teacher-led professional development training that brings together teachers from district, charter, and parochial schools.

Chaffee also serves on a review committee of the Fund for Teachers, a national program for which BTU serves as the local partner that makes grant awards to Boston district and charter teachers to pursue global travel that will enhance their teaching practice.

“We know her, she’s been in Boston schools,” said Jessica Tang, who is poised to take the reins as the new BTU president.

Tang first met Chaffee more than a decade ago. Before she began teaching at Codman Academy 10 years ago, Chaffee worked with Citizen Schools, a nonprofit that runs apprenticeships and afterschool programs at Boston middle schools. One of the schools Chaffee worked at was the Gavin Middle School in South Boston, where Tang was a teacher.

Stutman said the BTU plan to have Chaffee speak to a membership meeting is not in any way a comment on the MTA’s recent action.

He would not say how he would have voted on the MTA motion to congratulate Chaffee. “I don’t have any opinion on how they conduct their business. I respect Barbara Madeloni 100 percent,” he said, of the state union president. “The MTA went through a democratic process. Whether we like it or not, they took a vote, it was a debated.”

“At the end of the day this is all a distraction,” Stutman said of the controversy stirred up by the MTA vote. “I think this makes a mountain out of a molehill.”

Though he said he was happy for Chaffee, Stutman said he is not particularly keen on the whole idea of the National Teacher of the Year award.

“It’s created by people who more often than not disregard and disrespect the teaching profession,” he said, referring the various state and national education groups involved in the selection.

The two national teachers unions and other educator organizations are part of the National Teacher of the Year selection commiteee. But Stutman, whose union has been in a tense standoff with the city over contract negotiations, likened it to the token role he has played over the years on Boston school superintendent search committees.

The award is a “feel-good type of event” that papers over the “conditions that teachers work under every day,” Stutman said. “To just elevate one teacher doesn’t do much for education.”