GREECE — St. Lawrence School’s third-grade classroom was a winter wonderland on a recent December morning, with Christmas music playing and holiday decorations filling the room.
As students worked on math worksheets featuring problems arranged in the shape of Christmas trees and others displaying “Santa’s sleigh” bar graphs, Isabelle Selvek moved from desk to desk to offer assistance where needed.
As class drew to a close, Selvek — counting down slowly from 20 — instructed the youngsters to put away their laptop computers and supplies and return to their desks. All of the students speedily met their teacher’s challenge.
“You guys did really good with that. That’s the best you’ve done,” Selvek said.
That scene offered a glimpse of the fun that Selvek spreads among her students — fun that also has included her spontaneously breaking into dances with them from time to time, she noted. Her youthful enthusiasm may well stem from the fact that Selvek was an elementary-school student not that many years ago.
Selvek, who turned 23 on Dec. 17, is in her first year of teaching, having received her bachelor’s degree in education from SUNY Geneseo this past spring before joining the St. Lawrence staff for the 2021-22 school year. A graduate of Greece Olympia High School, she told the Catholic Courier that she’s glad to be working in her hometown as well as being in a setting “where the classroom felt like a second family.”
In order to maintain a family-like closeness, Selvek said she tries not to be overly strict. Rather, she strives to keep an open atmosphere with her young St. Lawrence students so that everybody — including herself — feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
“I talk to all the kids; we have different conversations. I’m very social,” she said. “I think that you’ve got to talk about your day. You’re going to make your lessons more engaging.”
For instance, she reminds her third-graders that because she’s currently studying at SUNY Geneseo for her master’s degree, she can readily relate to the pressures brought on by assignments and tests.
“We’re fellow students, and we talk about that, that it’s OK to feel anxious,” she said. “They talk openly about being stressed and how to handle it. Those are skills they’re going to need for the rest of their lives.”
Selvek said she also can identify with being in a school setting during the coronavirus pandemic. Her college classes beginning in early 2020, student teaching in early 2021 in the Pittsford and Canisteo-Greenwood school districts, and now her position at St. Lawrence have all been subject to public-health restrictions that have upended traditional learning models.
“It was really tough. My stress was definitely through the roof — being online, wearing a mask,” she said. “I really had to focus on my mental health, because I knew if I was stressed, then I would give it off to the kids.”
Selvek remarked that being a first-year teacher brings additional challenges: “College doesn’t teach you for when a student has tough questions, or you’re trying 10 ways to explain something that a student doesn’t get, or how to build relationships. You have to figure all that out very early on.”
Despite the various obstacles she has faced, Selvek said she’s very happy to finally be working in a profession that had long been on her radar.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher since probably first or second grade,” she said.
Selvek, who attended St. Theodore Parish in Gates growing up, also has made the pleasant discovery that teaching in a Catholic-school environment has helped deepen her faith.
“We pray every day. We do religion, something I didn’t touch upon in public school. It’s been really nice,” she said. “I find myself praying more than my last few years in college and really connecting back to Catholic traditions, going to Mass more.”
Overall, Selvek said, her first professional experience as a teacher is “going great.”
“It is amazing,” she said. “We’ve been learning so much; they’ve been improving immensely. The classroom is so close.”