American teacher of the year, Sydney Chaffee, says teachers should be allowed room to influence the curriculum reviews as they know better than anyone what is good for learners.
Teachers should be allowed room to influence the curriculum reviews, believes American teacher of the year, Sydney Chaffee.

Chaffee is in South Africa and her visit, organised by the US Embassy, will culminate in a workshop with local teacher of the year nominees.

She sat down for an interview with The Star in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Interestingly, her visit happens at a time when South Africa’s school curriculum is once again being reviewed, this time in a bid to afford teachers more teaching time.

Teachers have over recent years lambasted the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (Caps), as the curriculum is known, for demanding more assessment and less teaching time.

They complain that the curriculum robs learners of an opportunity to grasp the taught content.

Chaffee told The Star that teachers know better than anyone what is good for learners. They should be heard more than anyone when the curriculum is being reviewed, she said.

“Teachers are experts in children. We work with children every day. We have a deep knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work in the classrooms.

“And so, policymakers should be partnering with us teachers to help inform those decisions about curriculum and other policies in education,” said Chaffee.

The teacher of the year programme in the US allows teachers to get connected with policymakers “and form some relationships with them to tell them our stories and to help influence policy”.

The American teacher said one thing she has learnt with certainty as she travelled the world was that teachers were similar. They all want effective education systems.

“There is so much that we have in common, that’s what I’ve found.”

She found this commonality, too, here in South Africa when she interacted with officials, teachers and NGO representatives.

“I’ve been to countries where we don’t speak the same language. We’re thinking about the same things. We’re all talking about the whole child, how do we understand the students,” Chaffee added.