Southwest kindergarten teacher retires after 27 years

Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Southwest Teacher Laura Larson reaches out to hug one of her students. Larson has been teaching 27 years, including 23 at Southwest Schools. Julia Kilmer

Larson tells teachers to love and listen to students

For the last time, Southwest School Kindergarten Teacher Laura Larson taught a lesson, read a book, hurried about to deal with a crisis, answered unending questions, solved endless problems, hugged students and lined them up to leave, and this time, she was leaving, too.

After 23 years of teaching preschool and kindergarten at Southwest Schools, and four years of teaching in Jefferson City, Larson retired from teaching.

Southwest Teacher Laura Larson hands a jacket to one of her students as she lines them up to leave for the summer, and for her last day of teaching. Julia Kilmer

From a little-known town called Hart, near Seneca, Larson graduated in 1974 from McDonald County. She got married, had two children, and in 1988, got a degree in elementary education from Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

Her first teaching jobs were in Jefferson City, teaching two years in public school, and two years in the Special Learning Center there, which provides early intervention to children with developmental delays and disabilities from mild to severe.

"I taught children with just about any disability, from autism, downs, fragile X syndrome, learning disabilities, hearing disabilities, cerebral palsy and so on," Larson said.

In 1992, after a few years of teaching, she found herself in a transition.

She applied to schools all over Jefferson City but was not having any luck. Next, she decided to move to be closer to her mother who lived in southwest Missouri. She applied to several schools around Cassville, but still, nothing was panning out.

Finally, she called Southwest Schools, and, incredulously, got hired without even applying.

"They said they needed a preschool teacher down here," Larson said. "They asked me, 'Do you have preschool experience? Early childhood? Are you certified in special education?' I said yes, and they asked, 'When can you start?' Back then, there were very few teachers certified in special education."

Her training and experience in early childhood, special education and elementary education got her the job.

"God called me to Southwest," she said. "The No. 1 reason I teach is because God called me to be a teacher. I didn't apply here, but ended up here. "

Larson said one of the most rewarding aspects of her career has been watching her students learn and develop.

"When I get these children in my room, they're like a blank slate, and I get to see the light bulb come on," Larson said. "There are many that did not even know how to write their name and when they leave, they are reading, and when I think about that, that I was the one who gave them that foundation, I mean, what better joy?"

Larson said she loves her students and has continued to try and keep in touch after they leave her classroom.

"We become a family here," she said. "I love to know what happens to them when they grow up. I went to graduation this year. There's only like five of them. The others moved away. I have seniors here that still come up and give me hugs.

"I love my kids, I'm going to miss that part of it, and my colleagues."

Southwest Principal Jeff Payne said though he has only been in his position at the school for a year or so, he can attest that the children were always at the center of Larson's focus.

"She had a heart for the kids and really everything she did at the school was for the better of our kids," he said. "She really provided a great service and touched a lot of lives. I know kids still come back and want to see her. She made a huge impact on the community."

Although Larson said she loved her students and teaching, she admitted that times were not always easy.

"When I had some difficult children, children that were very trying, I just plugged on, with God's help," she said.

If she were to leave any advice to other teachers, it would be not to assume anything with students.

"Don't assume the kids know anything, like how to hold a pencil, this word or that," she said. "Tell them what that word means. Give them all the information and they are like little sponges and will soak it all up. Love them, listen to them, and be compassionate because that's what they want, you to love and listen to them."

Having structure is another important thing she would pass on.

"Structure is one thing you have to be very firm about," she said.

As her last day draws to a close, Larson said she felt elated and excited.

"I can't believe I made it 27 years," she said. "I'll probably still get up in the morning and come here. I'm excited."

Her plans for retirement include mission work, volunteering, and to be involved with her church.

"We'll go wherever God wants us to go," she said. "And, I want to volunteer here at school. What we're going to do now is missions. We're going to Royal Family Kids Camp in June, Eagle Rock, then Kentucky for a week through our church."

As to who will fill Larson's shoes is anyone's best guess.

"It's tough to replace anyone who has served and given their lives for education," Payne said. "All we can do is bring in teachers we feel have the same passion as Laura did as they go through life and that they will keep that passion as she did."

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