A union's abhorrent snub of the National Teacher of the Year

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

It’s one thing to behave badly. It’s another thing to take an official vote in support of behaving badly. But, lo and behold, that is precisely what the Massachusetts Teachers Association did last weekend at their annual meeting of delegates. And so a magnanimous gesture on the part of two retired delegates ended in a way that can only be described as classless and pathetic.

Mike Antonucci explains:

New Business Item #7 was introduced by retired delegates, and it called upon the union to “formally congratulate and recognize Sydney Chaffee,” the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. MTA was directed to “send a written letter of congratulations to Sydney Chaffee, and recognize her accomplishment via appropriate social media.”

Until this year, the National Teacher of the Year had never hailed from Massachusetts. Sydney Chaffee changed that, and she’s worthy of celebration and recognition. Common sense, right? Like, who in their right mind would be against that?

Meet the Massachusetts Teachers Association. They decided, by way of an official vote, that they would not congratulate Chaffee for being named the 2017 National Teacher of the Year.

Never mind that she works with a high needs population, fights for social justice, and by all accounts embodies excellence and love in the classroom. For this union, there’s one problem that outweighs all of that: She teaches at a charter school in Dorchester and Barbara Madeloni, MTA president, hates charter schools. In fact, Barbara will stand up for those in the excess teacher pool who are draining $34 million from Massachusetts because no principal wants to hire them—but she will not even congratulate a teacher that principals would be chomping at the bit to have work in their buildings.

More from Antonucci:

Chaffee is not a member of MTA, and the union is under no obligation to acknowledge her existence, never mind her achievement. Still, it illustrates that what MTA wants from teachers is not a high level of professionalism, or ability, or even adherence to social justice, but a blind devotion to a strict political agenda.

Keri Rodriguez lays out the sordid details for us—and, truth be told, it’s a tale of dishonesty and pettiness.

Word on the street is that President Madeloni pulled out all the stops to block the resolution from passing—forcing the item into the new business portion of the meeting when most delegates had already left instead of as pending business as it had been addressed in years past to make sure there was full participation of the body. Barbara apparently even got up and lied to the membership about the Council of Chief State School Officers being a collection of “corporate sell-outs” who selected Sydney because of question 2 and their love for charter schools/Charlie Baker/Donald Trump.

For the record, here’s the organizations who selected Sydney as teacher of the year who Barbara Madeloni has deemed “corporate sell-outs”:

  • American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)
  • American Association of School Administrators (AASA)
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI)
  • Association for Middle Level Education
  • ASCD
  • Association of Teacher Educators (ATE)
  • Educators Rising
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)
  • National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
  • National Education Association (NEA )
  • National PTA
  • National School Boards Association (NSBA)
  • National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)
  • The Business Roundtable
  • Previous National Teacher of the Year

In her recent speech to her fellow Teachers of the Year from all over the country, Chaffee tells the inspiring story of her student, Damien. It left me wishing every child could have a teacher like her. I felt the exact same way about Jahana Hayes, the Connecticut teacher who won the national award last year. She doesn’t teach at a charter school.

Incredible teachers exist in every corner of the educational landscape, and we should be celebrating and honoring all of them without a litmus test for their school’s governance model. If we put the needs of kids above all else, not doing so is inexcusable.

Congratulations Sydney Chaffee and to all whom have come before you. Thank you for your passion, dedication, and belief in the power of education to change lives.

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was first published by Good School Hunting.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute