Teacher of Year uses storytelling to educate students

December 18, 2017


Every student deserves to feel like a hero. That was the message for 177 graduating teachers at the University of Central Oklahoma, along with various education and community leaders at last week's annual luncheon, Honoring a Noble Profession — Celebrating Teachers and Teaching.

The message was delivered by the 2017 National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee. She is from the Boston area and was here on her first visit to Oklahoma. She shared that her passion is teaching, and beyond that, her passion is storytelling. Storytelling is used as she teaches her ninth-grade students history. It helps them learn and gain perspective of their world now by understanding what has happened in the past.

She also used storytelling in the context that teachers are helping students write their own life stories. These stories can be developed through mentor teachers guiding and developing students in positive ways, or with negative influences that set them on the wrong path.

As a new teacher, Chaffee worked as a teaching fellow at a Citizen School that ran an after school program. She shared the story of Chris, a student who refused to do his lesson. They had a negative exchange and, instead of attempting to understand what was going on in Chris's life, Chaffee told him he had to do the lesson and went on to tell him he was being disrespectful. He was disciplined and she didn't give it much additional thought.

She saw him five years later and Chris told her he'd never forgotten how mean she had been. It dawned on Chaffee that her actions had a real impact on Chris. With some experience under her belt, Chaffee realized she was one in a long string of white female teachers telling a young black child he was disrespectful and defiant without pausing to develop a relationship and learn what was going on in his life. Chaffee shared that she learned so much from this experience and vowed to never let that happen again.

Chaffee challenged the crowd in attendance to reflect on teachers they had in their lives who had made a positive difference in their lives. Several shared their experiences with the group and not one of them mentioned the curriculum they learned. All shared the stories of teachers who cared about them and challenged them to be their best. The learning comes when the care and accountability is present.

Chaffee's teaching values include relationships, relevance and equity. These same values are good for all of us, whether we are in school or not. Her remarks were powerful and there is no doubt that the group of new UCO teachers walked away inspired. A critical piece to add to this story is that teachers can't be the only ones responsible for our student's success. Our teachers and schools cannot do it alone and we all share in the responsibility. Because, as Chaffee said, “Every student deserves to feel like a hero. And, every kid is amazing.”