Led by a Love for Literature: Mr. Larson’s Journey to La Salle


Ashley Hawkins

English teacher Mr. Greg Larson has had a passion for storytelling since he was young.

Vanessa Su and Lillian Paugh

From Oregon City to Boston, to China and the Dominican Republic, English teacher Mr. Greg Larson has brought many of his experiences to La Salle’s classrooms.

Mr. Larson’s experiences, interests, and hobbies seep into his classroom through the decorations on his walls. And his time spent engaged in his interests, such as fly fishing, studying birds, and being outdoors in general, allows him time to reflect and are where he feels he can find meaningful lessons that he brings back to class.

Mr. Larson, a 2008 La Salle graduate, grew up in Oregon City in a secluded area and next to an elderly woman he gardened with and told everything to. “Through doing that, I really learned the deep value in conversation and learned to render my experiences in language,” Mr. Larson said. “And I felt like I was able to take these clouds of feeling and turn them into words, and I liked being able to do that.”

The time he spent with her would prove significant for him, as he attributes part of his decision to pursue a career in teaching English to the numerous times he spent with her in her garden talking, listening, and telling stories. And he feels that her advice and the thought she provoked in him influenced him to connect more fully to the material he was learning in his English classes and with his English teachers, which fueled in him a passion for the subject as well as for pursuing and wanting access to interesting stories.

His experience with conversation and language while he was young has shaped him into a person who enjoys storytelling, especially in English literature. His curiosities and interests were always supported by his parents, who took him to many activities and new experiences to find what he loved most.

However, becoming an English teacher was not the first option on Mr. Larson’s mind, as he grew up thinking about possibly pursuing a career as a lawyer or a watchmaker. But he landed on becoming an English major because of his uncertainty in what he wanted to do.

He figured that, in studying English, the major could act as a placeholder in case something else he was more interested in came around that he would rather pursue. And he also thought that getting an English degree could aid him in whatever he decided to ultimately do, saying that he remembers thinking that the reading skills he would gain would allow him to pick up a book on anything and he could teach himself whatever it was he wanted to pursue.

However, English stuck, and “the more classes in English I took, I was like, ‘Wait a second. I really like this. I think storytelling might be my thing,’” he said.

Attending Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon — a school that Mr. Larson perceived as being predominantly filled with nursing and business majors — his experience as an English major there was unexpectedly fortuitous, as he was one of about seven other students in his class in the major at the time, and as a result, he and his fellow classmates were able to get more one-on-one time with the seven English professors there at the time.

Overall, Mr. Larson feels like his education was enhanced by the dedication that his professors put into teaching and mentoring him.

“I took as many English classes as I could, and I got really into it,” he said. “And my professors could tell I was really into it. They were like, ‘Hey, this guy cares a lot, let’s invest in him.’”

“I started with a bunch of art,” Mr. Larson said. “And then I was like, ‘Well, I have more birds than people on the wall.’” (Lilah Ruud)

Having felt like an unexceptional student throughout high school, the newfound feelings of academic achievement and excellence that Mr. Larson felt as a result of this close attention and encouragement from his college professors was extremely rewarding for him, and he found himself excelling because of it. One such instance of this was when his professors encouraged him to apply for a scholarship that “absolutely changed my life,” he said, as it gave him the opportunity to travel abroad for two years.

“Travel allowed me some perspective on my own life,” Mr. Larson said. “I lived in Oregon my whole life, and [then] I moved to the Dominican Republic, and then I moved to China. That’s going to give you some perspective on the world.” 

In his time abroad, Mr. Larson began teaching English as a foreign language and found that, now immersed in new cultures he’d never experienced before, he loved teaching about those cultures and stories more so than he did grammar and structure. Upon this realization, Mr. Larson decided that he wanted to go back to school to pursue that passion and higher education. However, having lived in Oregon his whole life, he decided he wanted to follow his newfound bug for traveling and found himself attending graduate school in Boston.

Through his experience as a student, as well as his extensive history in being a tutor in college and receiving positive feedback from that, Mr. Larson found a passion in helping people learn and improve, which fueled his desire to begin teaching professionally.

“Being an English teacher started to emerge as a really good job because I wanted to help people,” he said. “It felt very satisfying to help people get better at something that they could use after they worked with me, and I thought, if I become a teacher, that might be true for a couple thousand people. That’d be amazing.”

Returning both to Oregon and to his high school alma mater, Mr. Larson began teaching English at La Salle in 2017, where he found himself working alongside many of his former teachers, some of whom were the very ones who also inspired his interest in language and English and led him to want to return to La Salle to teach.

“I care about this place,” Mr. Larson said. “And some of the people that taught me a lot are still here, and I admire them, and whenever you can turn a hero into a colleague, that’s a pretty cool gig.”

English teacher Mr. Chris Krantz, who taught Mr. Larson in his freshman year, is one teacher-turned-coworker in particular that he said changed his life by making him realize the impact that studying English and literature had on him personally and highly influencing where he would end up today in his career.

“I didn’t recognize it at the time, but [the class] started to introduce me to critical thinking and paying attention at a higher level than I ever had,” Mr. Larson said. “And the harder I worked at that, it was just so obvious that that work could actually change my life in a way that understanding a 30-60-90 triangle couldn’t.”

Now a teacher himself, Mr. Larson has found parts of educating others difficult. In particular, he recognizes a hyperfocus on grades, when he thinks that there are a number of things that should be valued alongside a student’s numerical level of achievement.

“It’s so easy for the important stuff to get lost in the communication when grades are part of it,” he said.

The use of the app PowerSchool for students and families at La Salle to check academic progress is one that Mr. Larson commented on in particular, saying that he feels the system is problematic because of the quantifiability and immediacy of it, which he thinks, in turn, forces students to put more value on their grades rather than their learning.

“It’s hard for me that our students and school community rely on that tool so heavily because the story that PowerSchool tells students about themselves is a very powerful emotional component,” Mr. Larson said. 

Similar to his approach to hard work in college as a result of the support from his professors, Mr. Larson said that he treats his work at La Salle the same way. “The people that have helped me mean so much to me,” he said. “And I want to be able to honor their investment in me by doing my job well.”

As a part of his own teaching philosophy, Mr. Larson strives to show each of his students in each of his classes the care and dedication he has for them, thinking back to when, during his own education, he occasionally had teachers who seemed to have been “on autopilot or didn’t seem motivated or didn’t believe what they were saying or didn’t care about what they were saying,” he said. “But I wanted students to see someone that cares, regularly, that’s really invested in them and that’s trying to help. Nothing matters more than that in teaching.”

In addition, Mr. Larson’s teaching style and the energy he brings to the classroom is influenced by the teachers he had that did show emotion and excitement in their teaching.

“I really responded to the passion of my teachers,” he said. “And when they were fired up, I got fired up, and the more fired up I was, the harder I worked, and I learned the content more effectively. … So I wanted to have that kind of effect on people.”

As a part of sharing and bringing his passions to his classes, Mr. Larson’s experiences, interests, and hobbies can be seen seeping into his classroom through the decorations on his walls and the conversation-starter aspects he hopes that they have on students.

Mr. Larson decided to fill a portion of his wall with the faces of people he admires and from different backgrounds. “I want my students to see someone that looks like them or that’s reflective of their experience,” he said. (Lilah Ruud)

These pieces include knickknacks, pieces of art, and posters of poems, quotes, and famous people he admires that Mr. Larson hopes he can use to share lessons that he’s learned in his life with his students visually through the covered walls of his English classroom and spur conversations among students about the various wall-hangings.

“Everything in here has a story,” Mr. Larson said. 

Outside of school, Mr. Larson can often be found somewhere outside enjoying nature — whether it be hiking or spending time with people without the distractions of technology — where he finds it is best for thinking and where he finds material to bring back to his students. 

“I love when it’s Saturday, and you drive up to Mt. Hood National Forest, and you’ve been listening to music,” Mr. Larson said. “It’s got you in a reflective mood, or you’re with a good friend, and you’re talking, and you open the car door, and it’s cold, and the air is crisp and clear. And you take that first deep breath. … I love that, and I find that I have better perspective and clearer thoughts when I’m out there. And I bring that back to the classroom.”

Helping people understand and ponder complex things that will be useful to them both before and after graduating from La Salle is Mr. Larson’s favorite part about teaching. “It’s rewarding to think about designing conversations and materials that will help people think through challenging, important ideas,” he said. “And that’s really fulfilling work.” 

His emphasis on discussion in his classroom is something he sees as creating a different learning environment than many classrooms and has been a part of his effort to create a unique environment for each class he teaches, which is something that has served as a reminder to him of his initial reasoning behind choosing to become a teacher above the other career paths he had considered. 

“I didn’t want a job where I wake up and do the same thing every day,” Mr. Larson said. “And one of the things I love about my job is that every class is different.” 

Another unique thing about his classes is that he sees himself as taking a somewhat different approach to technology as other teachers at La Salle. While every student utilizes an iPad during the school day for their in-class assignments and activities, Mr. Larson has found that, in his classes, he prefers to stay away from some of the more common forms of technology used for learning — such as using Kahoots and doing digital worksheets — and he tends to utilize physical, paper handouts and do a lot of storytelling and conversation-based teaching.

“I don’t use many apps, I’m kind of famous for lots of handouts, I print a lot,” he said. “And all of those things seem to make me pretty odd, but they also make me stand out in a way.”

Hearing from students who have graduated talk about the impacts that his class had on them and being able to see the effects his teaching has on students, both past and present, is a factor of the job that has aided Mr. Larson’s continuation of it and is the reason he continues to love it — in addition to the fact that a large portion of his job involves doing the thing he loves most: talking about books.

“I could do it all day, forever,” Mr. Larson said.