Mary Pat Larocca, retiring after 40 years of teaching at Ideal School, chats with Countryside Mayor Sean McDermott. (Photos by Steve Metsch)
After 40 years of teaching, Larocca will ‘miss the kids’
By Steve Metsch
For the past 40 years, Mary Pat Larocca has come to work to the same building and worked in the same room.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Larocca, 61, of Oak Park, has taught 40 years of kindergarten students at Ideal Elementary School in Countryside.
June 3 will be her final day on the job.
In recognition of her accomplishments, Countryside Mayor Sean McDermott, at the May 11 city council meeting, proclaimed June 6 as Mary Pat Larocca Day in the city.
The council also presented her with a framed copy of the proclamation along with a bouquet of flowers as about a dozen teachers in attendance applauded.
Afterwards, Larocca reflected upon four decades of teaching.
“Same school, same classroom, same grade. All these years,” she said. “I got to spend every day with children.”
She never wanted to become a principal or not teach kindergarteners.
“They’re so honest,” she said. “They need to know you love them and want to listen to them and be with them and have fun with them.”
Yes, she has taught children of former students.
“The first time it was, ‘What?’ But after that I got over it,” she said with a laugh.
Larocca does have one regret: “Oh, my gosh, I never wrote down all the funny things they said. There are so many.”
Asked for a funny memory, she recalled how she used to teach kids a letter each week. For “P” she thought she’d teach about popcorn. She placed a popcorn maker in the middle of the room with the kids sitting around it, holding paper plates. The idea was they would collect the popcorn after it had popped.
But Larocca did not realize she was supposed to use a hot air popper.
“I had the one with the hot oil. The kernels starting going out, hitting them on their shins. It was supposed to be fun. I told them, ‘Run, run,’” she said.
That’s when she taught a morning class and afternoon class each day. Needless to say, the afternoon popcorn session was put on hold.
Larocca taught two classes each day for 33 years, moving to full-day classes seven years ago.
The children have not changed that much, she said.
“Kids always want the same thing. They want to know that you hear them and you see them and that you love them. That hasn’t changed. I really do love them,” she said, dabbing tears.
Larocca, who is single, has 12 nieces and nephews. Invariably, when they visited her, they wanted to visit her classroom, she said.
The hardest part of teaching has been “saying goodbye to the kids every year. It’s fun to start with a new group, but you get attached.”
She’s seen many changes in teaching.
“When I started, there were no computers. You hand wrote everything,” she said. “I taught with no computer and I’ve taught with only a computer. The last couple of years we taught on Zoom.”
Teaching remotely because of the pandemic was not difficult “once I learned all the technology for it.”
In the past few months, she’s been busy in another way, “cleaning out 40 years of junk. I’ve been doing it for months. Sharing it with the teachers.”
Larocca is retiring now because she wants to leave “on an even number” and 45 years seemed a bit too many.
Her peers planned a retirement part for her on May 13 at the La Grange Country Club.
“In regards to my job and teaching, I always gave it 100 percent and did the best job I could do,” Larocca said.
She said she feels sorry for anyone who does not love their job or counts down the days to retirement.
“It’s an amazing place to work. Supportive,” she said of La Grange School District 105.
A 1978 graduate of Trinity High School, Larocca was the only teacher in the Class of 1982 at The College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minn., who did not have a job lined up on graduation day.
“There’s no Internet then. I think it’s because this job was waiting for me. I grew up in Chicago and wanted to work back here.”
She found the job at Ideal School and was hired in September of 1982 after the semester started.
As an amusing parting gift, Larocca is giving some teachers a photo of herself with the letters WWMPD or What Would Mary Pat Do?
Mary Pat would work her summers, not at summer school, but on committee projects like curriculum. She also found time to travel.
But the first day of August was always time to focus on the upcoming school year.
“The summer’s over on August 1, so I don’t know what I’m going to do this year. ‘Does anybody need any help? Can I come cut out things for you?’,” she said.
She said she will probably work as a substitute teacher “because I’ll miss the kids.”
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