On the first day of school every year, Brockport social studies teacher Orlando Benzan gets a special call or text from a former student. She says: “Thank you.”
It’s especially meaningful because the former student was once a troubled teenager struggling to get through high school — and now she’s an inspiring teacher herself.
“She says ‘thank you for helping me get my life on track,’” Benzan said. “She’s doing fantastic — and now she’s paying it forward by making connections with her own kids. Hearing from students like her, that’s the high of being a teacher. It’s pretty powerful.”
Others at a “Careers in Education” conference for Rochester area high school students this week shared their thoughts on the education profession. After finding a 9-to-5 job at a bank unfulfilling and monotonous, Brockport graduate student Raymond Zajak eventually went back to college to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher.
“In education, no two days are the same,” he said. “As you drive home and replay the day in your head, there’s a great sense of pride. I feel like I make a huge impact on a lot of people’s lives.”
Morgan Sherwood, a senior education major at SUNY Brockport who is currently student teaching, gets tremendous satisfaction out of helping students conquer their fear of math. In her own life, she said a couple of teachers and coaches were tremendous mentors. “I want to make that same kind of impact as a teacher and by being involved in high school athletics that were always such a big part of my life,” she said.
The three spoke during a career day event co-sponsored by NYSUT’s "Take a Look at Teaching” initiative. The annual event, a partnership including a dozen Monroe County high schools, both Monroe County BOCES, United University Professions, SUNY Brockport and other colleges, went online this year due to the pandemic.
Brockport social studies teacher Orlando Benzan.
Breakout sessions included everything from “Why I Teach” stories to why it’s important to have a diverse education workforce. Students learned about a variety of opportunities in the education field, including paraprofessional work and high-need areas in special education, teaching English language learners and the mental health field.
Panelists also shared information on how to pick a college, navigate the financial aid process and unique programs like student teaching opportunities in Alaska and Australia.
Keynote speaker Lesli Myers-Small, superintendent of Rochester City Schools, urged students not to get discouraged by obstacles or low expectations. “I was told often that I would never make it and become a statistic,” she said, as she shared a series of roadblocks in her own educational journey.
Sarah Peyre, Dean of the Warner Graduate School of Education at the University of Rochester, urged students to follow their hearts and minds. “What team do you want to be on?” she said. “In education, you’ll be with people who want to make a difference in this world. There’s no better team.”