Mary Lucca celebrates her 16th year as a favorite substitute teacher at York. (Mary Kett)
Mary Lucca celebrates her 16th year as a favorite substitute teacher at York.

Mary Kett

UTM: Mary Lucca, York’s beloved substitute, brings joy to every class she teaches

March 12, 2020

Students file, slowly and begrudgingly, into their classroom. It’s a dreary Monday in February; conversations about the difficult math test, distaste towards the new bathroom policy, and complaints about fatigue and hunger fill the room with a gloomy, tiresome feel. 

Suddenly, the door opens and substitute teacher Mary Lucca enters with a smile on her face and a kind twinkle in her eyes. There is a stir of excitement as she greets the class with an enthusiastic “Hello, students!” The mood immediately lifts; Lucca is a ray of sunshine in the dreary drag of a cold, grey day. 

Lucca, 67, has been a substitute teaching at York for 16 years. An Elmhurst resident, she has five children, a husband of 40 years, and an abundance of thought-provoking and intelligent advice to share.

“I really enjoy the students and staff [at York] because I learn something new here every day,” Lucca said. “That’s a gift for me. [Teaching] is a very engaging, uplifting, mind-opening experience.”

A graduate of Marquette University, Lucca studied journalism. After raising her children, she unexpectedly decided to substitute teach throughout District 205. Now, Lucca embraces education to its fullest extent.

“I appreciate children [because of] their curiosity, their openness, their willingness to accept you,” Lucca said. “Children don’t have filters.”

Lucca has a reputation at York of being a calm, kind presence in the classroom. Many wonder how she is able to maintain such a demeanor in often stressful environments.

“If a student isn’t acting appropriately, I know there’s something going on,” Lucca said. “I try to allow that there might be something more going on than meets the eye.”

While she now has a passion for education, Lucca never planned on being a teacher; because of this, she emphasizes the dynamicity of life and unexpected paths. 

“What you’re exposed to impacts where you’ll end up,” Lucca said. “I believe that all of us have so many undiscovered talents. Expose yourself to as many things as you can, and trust that you’ll find your way.”

In high school, Lucca was a pompom girl and member of the glee club who was voted “most humorous” in her class. She also enjoyed playing sports with friends outside of school.

“When I was in high school, I couldn’t participate in sports because it wasn’t allowed for girls,” Lucca said. “There were a lot of doors that were closed; my options were limited. I feel so grateful for you [high school girls today] and everyone everywhere for any positive door that has opened, although we have a lot of doors that we still have to open.” 

Despite the added opportunities that high schoolers today have, Lucca acknowledges the negative changes that have happened over the past few decades.

“Children today seem to have more pressures, like phones,” Lucca said. “They can be a real gift, but they hurt a lot of people.”

Outside of school, Lucca keeps herself busy with several pastimes. 

“I do a lot of volunteering,” Lucca said. “I spend a lot of time with family and friends. I like to garden, read, quilt, and I love to cook.”

Besides partaking in hobbies, Lucca also stays updated on current events, expressing concern towards current issues including the environment and rising white supremacy in America. 

“I don’t agree with everyone, but I think if we can respect that they’re human and entitled to their thoughts, and when we listen to each other, we don’t have to change but hopefully we will come to understand,” Lucca said. “When we understand, I think that changes the equation. It’s hard to be hateful when we understand. When we talk to each other that’s so important, because that’s how we dispel a lot of ugliness.”

Lucca is a figure of cheer and positivity to many students, teachers and staff here at York; yet, her insightful, thoughtful, intelligent care will continue to leave a lasting impact on the York community for years to come. 

“Be open to everyone,” Lucca said when asked what piece of advice she would give high schoolers today. “Realize everyone is just trying to figure it out like you. Each person has something to give. You don’t have to have all the answers. You’ll figure it out.”

 

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