At a May 15 event held in the gym at St. Francis Xavier school, North Central resident and fourth-grade teacher Nancy Grucky was joined by family, friends, colleagues and students as she prepared to say “farewell” to a school she began teaching at in 1983.
A Phoenix native, Grucky began her own education at St. Gregory grade school, then attended Xavier College Preparatory. College took her out of state to Gonzaga University, where she took her first teaching job. But an untimely death in the family brought her back home to Phoenix, and eventually to St. Francis Xavier.
Grucky’s first teaching stint at the school began as a substitute in 1983. She taught there until 1987, when she and her husband, John, were expecting their second child. She made the decision to take a break from teaching to stay home and raise her family, but when her third child started grade school, she knew it was time to return to a job she loved. So, she returned to the school in 1996 and has been teaching there ever since.
The teaching profession is not always an easy one, Grucky said, but it does have its rewards.
“It is a very difficult job. It doesn’t pay well… it sounds cliche, but it is extraordinarily rewarding, when you see that ‘aha’ moment where they actually get something that was hard or they feel proud of themselves for their learning,” she said.
Another reward for staying at one school for decades, is that the teacher has seen her students return to the school as teachers, which is incredibly validating. One student, Sarah Behring, was a student and has returned as Grucky’s fourth-grade teaching partner.
In a recent school newsletter, Behring wrote, “Mrs. Grucky taught me to find joy in my life every day and her joy of teaching is what shines above all else.”
But challenges always arise. During the pandemic, Grucky said she came close to leaving, because the new demands of technology threw her a curve ball.
“When the pandemic hit, I was in big trouble, because I was not fluent at all with using the technology. My partner teacher at the time, Ashley Ezell, who was young enough to be one of my kids, I just looked at her and said, ‘I might have to quit because I really just can’t do this. It is just way too difficult for me.’ She was so amazing. She was the one that embraced me and just said, ‘We can do this. We will do this.’
It is that kind of camaraderie that kept her going.
“All of the women that I’ve worked with, they have made me a better teacher because they have imparted who they are on me. I’ve been lucky that I’ve taught with so many amazing teachers,” Grucky said.
And the feeling of admiration for Grucky is returned.
“Nancy is just an absolute gem,” said St. Francis Xavier principal Ryan Watson. “She is the epitome of professionalism, competence and care for our kids.”
Watson added, “She’s a great mentor to our newer staff. She’s a great role model for our students, and I just feel like her consistent approach in the classroom always really reflects love and respect, because it goes both ways between her and the kids and her as well.”
The school, which was founded in 1936 and currently has 656 students enrolled in preschool through eighth grade, has seen plenty of changes over the years. But as the principal noted, one of the five tenets of Jesuit education is to be open to growth. In meeting the challenges of changing education landscapes, that is something that Grucky echoes, and she adds that balance is also important.
The teacher says that young people who are entering the profession should be flexible and seek balance.
“Plan and prepare your lessons very well. Then be prepared to pivot at any given time.”
Grucky added, “Spend time really getting to know your students. When they trust you and feel safe around you, they are willing to fail. It is through failure and finding mistakes in a safe setting that true learning takes place.”
As far as what comes after retirement, she is still contemplating that. In the meantime, she encourages her students and fellow teachers to follow another tenet of Jesuit teaching, “Go out and set the world on fire.”
She added, “And I’m planning on doing the same in my chapter two.