Teacher Appreciation: Jolene Walajtys, Big Cross

Glens Falls City School District recognizes national Teacher Appreciation Week by highlighting committed and enthusiastic teachers from every one of our schools each day of the week! Read on for an inside interview with Jolene Walajtys—one of the most dynamic teachers around our district.

teacher with students around her smiling

Jolene Walajtys went to Saratoga Springs High School, and later graduated from Hobart and William Smith with an undergraduate degree in Art History and Women’s Studies. She received her master’s degree in Elementary Education from The College of Saint Rose. She’s been teaching for 15 years and all of them were for GFSD: Pre-K, 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th at Sanford Street, Jackson Heights, and Big Cross.

What makes your teaching and learning environment unique?
I think the best way to engage students is to build relationships with them and to let them take an active role in their learning. We have a meeting every morning. We start our day by greeting each other, sharing our thoughts, problem solving tricky social/emotional situations, and moving our bodies together. I believe that the classroom and learning environment should be created by and for the students. If you look at my classroom before the very first day of school. It looks quite bare. The students bring it to life with their artwork, ideas, and what they’ve learned. In the beginning of the year, the students will think about what they want their classroom to feel, sound and look like. Even a 6-year-old is able to tell you how they want to learn and interact with one another. We write down all their ideas. We look for common themes and boil them down to a couple of promises that we all agree on. Throughout the year, we remind each other of the promises we made to each other.

teacher in classroom with two students reading
Jolene Walajtys teaches first grade at Big Cross Street Elementary School

What’s the best thing about GF Nation?
Honestly, it’s the people. From my first year to my current year, I’ve been blessed to teach such kind, creative, smart and talented students. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a countless number of supportive families. I also appreciate working for an administration that listens to feedback and encourages growth. Who you work with makes all the difference. Over the years, I’ve worked with colleagues who inspire me, who encourage me, who support me and who’ve helped me grow. We share ideas, laughter, and support. Whether those colleagues have retired, work in another building or right across the hall, I feel immensely grateful to have them in my life.

Describe your best lesson ever, or one you and students really enjoy.
I can’t recall my best lesson ever, but I can say how much I treasure our read aloud time. I love when the students are sitting close to each other on the rug and are intently listening to the story I am reading. I love when they lean in during the suspenseful parts. I love the laughter I hear during the funny parts. I love the recognition on someone’s face when they see themselves in a character or when they get a glimpse into the past or lives that are different from their own. It’s definitely my favorite time of the day.

Why do you think it’s important to teach the way you do?
Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When I think back on my own school experience, I remember how certain teachers made me feel. In many ways, it is why I am a teacher today. Of course, I do hope they remember what they’ve learned. I find that kids are more willing to take risks and push themselves if they feel safe enough to do so. They need to know that practice and making mistakes is how we learn.