After 37 years in the classroom, English teacher Valerie Larsen’s last day was on April 6 due to the extreme back pain she had been experiencing throughout the year. Teary-eyed and sad, Larsen said good bye to her students and colleagues before starting a new stage in her life.
“I am going to put all my poetry together in a book, learn guitar, get more active in my church, and I am going to be able to see my daughter more,” Larsen said. “I have joined a book club. I am going to travel, work out at the gym and walk more.”
Though Larsen had always loved reading, it was not until she was 24 that she realized that she wanted to become a teacher.
“I got really turned on to English in college,” Larsen said. “I had some great professors and that’s when I realized how fun English could be.”
After community college, Larsen transferred to the University of Arkansas. She took the required courses to become a teacher and began teaching at a country school in Arkansas. After a year, she moved to California to teach at the all-boys Catholic high school, St. Francis, in La Cañada. It was not until 2000 that she became an English teacher for SGHS.
“It was really wonderful to have girls in the classroom,” Larsen said. “Boys act differently when there are girls around.”
Throughout her many years here, Larsen has become a special person in the lives of many students. Senior Kailah Situ has become fond of her this past year.
“My friends and I are pretty close with her, so we always have good laughs with her,” Situ said. “She was one of the teachers that I was actually close too; she is really nice and friendly with us.”
Larsen’s early exit made many of her students sad, many of whom expected to be able to finish the year with her. Larsen’s back pain made it difficult to work. She will be on disability leave, with an upcoming surgery, and officially retire on June 30.
“Everyday was very painful for me, and I just pushed through as hard as I could to each day,” Larsen said. “It got to where the end of each day I was crying by the time I got to my car. I really wanted to come the week after spring break to see my sophomores’ Hamlet videos because I knew they worked hard on them. That’s why I came this last week.”
On her last day, Larsen received a lot of appreciation, making her final day full of bittersweet moments.
“My colleagues have been very supportive of me and I would like to thank them,” Larsen said. “A lot of students gave me gifts and cards today and I’ll treasure them forever. All the hugs that I got were so nice—it was such a beautiful way to end my career. I want my students to know that I tried really hard to make it to the end of the year, but I just couldn’t do it.”
Larsen’s students are sad to see their teacher leave, but happy that she will not be in pain anymore. She majorly impacted most of her students. Senior Brandon Ly Nguyen knows her lessons will stay with him for a long time.
“In my whole high school experience, she is one of the teachers that I am going to remember,” Nguyen said. “She is someone I can go to if I ever need help with school or life.”