By Andrew Housman
Delivering an impassioned keynote speech and earning a standing ovation at the Wagner College Teacher Resiliency Panel Forum on Thursday, New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks exhorted educators always to remember why they decided to become teachers.
“We need you desperately,” Banks said. “This city needs you and this nation needs you. So keep letting your light shine.”
The crowd was warm and welcoming on the crisp early autumn morning as educators, students, and community members and Assemblymembers Michael Reilly (R-Staten Island) and Michael Tannousis (R-Staten Island, Brooklyn) gathered inside the wood-paneled walls of Foundation Hall’s Manzulli Board Room to hear Banks speak.
Vanessa Smith-Washington, assistant professor in Wagner’s Education Department, organized the panel as part of her Teacher Resiliency Project. Originally started as a way to address remote learning during the pandemic, Washington has expanded the Project’s scope to address the broader and more ongoing issue of teacher turnover rates. Half of new teachers leave the profession within five years.
Fostering greater collaboration between teachers can help motivate them, Washington explained.
“They need to feel that they can teach in light of obstacles,” Washington said. “They need to know they can reach out to each other to remain resilient.”
Joining Banks from the Chancellor’s Office were Executive Director of Knowledge Management Verone Kennedy and Manager of School Review Tessa McBride. The three officials discussed personal experiences that inspired them to enter the education profession, as well as how they endured their own teaching hardships.
Chancellor Banks, who founded Eagle Academy Foundation, a public school network, reminisced about his days as an entry-level fourth-grade teacher.
“All of these little lives in my hands will be altered and moved and shaped based upon a word and an experience I will provide them,” Banks remembered thinking.
Indeed, Kennedy said every educator has the potential to change the world.
“For me, it is clear that the work that I’m doing is to ensure that when I leave this earth, people will be able to say that I contributed to something and made a difference,” Kennedy said.
Despite the impressive pedigrees of the education professionals, the panelists provided an easygoing, friendly environment that reflected their overall themes of mutual support with jokes, laughter and nods of agreement punctuating their remarks.
“I believe that teaching is one of the noblest careers you can do,” McBride said, drawing an enthusiastic round of applause.
Banks and his colleagues also emphasized the importance of authenticity.
“Students know when you’re being real. They can sniff out fake,” McBride said.
The event also included a follow-up panel that gathered a group of educational experts, including Wagner faculty members and school community leaders. The group included Louis Bruschi, Principal Lead for Family Engagement and Strategic Partnerships, Community School District 31; Reverend Dr. Demetrius Carolina, Senior Pastor First Central Baptist Church and CEO, Dior Consultants LLC; Eman Metwally, Learning Specialist, Staten Island Academy; Dr. Dina Prisco, Doctoral Capstone Coordinator, Wagner College; Tracy Rosenberg, retired performing arts teacher; Dr. Caroyln Taverner, Clinical Professor of Psychology, Wagner College, and Co-Founder and Program Director, Emma's Place. Carolina.
“A sense of inner strength and peace is what’s needed for our educators,” said Carolina, who helped establish the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Staten Island.
Recognizing the burnout that has led to the loss of about 500,000 educators since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Banks argued that the classroom needs to be a place where teachers are celebrated and honored.
“A lot of people make plenty of excuses to never achieve their ultimate purpose in life because they don’t have the resilience inside to make it happen,” Banks said. “Kids have to know that you affirmatively believe that they matter before you can teach them anything.”