On May 20, Paul Larson began to cry when he learned he was named the Santa Clara Unified School District’s Teacher of the Year. The math teacher at Wilcox High School wasn’t expecting this honor.
“As they read the bio for the person getting the award, they said, ‘this teacher works very hard,’ and I’m thinking that all teachers work very hard,” Larson recalls. “And then they dropped the pronoun ‘he,’ and I’m thinking the winning teacher is male like me. They got to one line where they said this teacher fought for starting teacher pay raises and that’s when I thought this could be me.”
During his career, Larson worked with United Teachers Santa Clara and led Wilcox High teachers to advocate for higher pay for new teachers.
“I had a student teacher three years ago and our starting teacher salary then was around $38,000; by the time they pay for their medical expenses and their taxes and their pensions, their take home pay was around $23,000,” Larson says. “You can’t get into a single bedroom apartment for $23,000 a year, let alone eat, pay for your car and pay off your student loans. So I did research and went to the board with a report, and I requested a raise for the new teacher salary. Then the new teacher salary increased. It went up by 32 percent.”
Sharing his teaching philosophy, Larson believes that to prepare for playing any sport, you must practice first.
“The fun part is the game,” Larson says. “In my class, I have to prepare a lot of the lessons and though some of them are stinkers, if I get a really good one once a week, the students will stay with me. Tomorrow in my trig class, we’re going to launch an air rocket. I have an air rocket that shoots 200 to 300 feet, and we use stop watches to record the data, which is the launch time. A lot of physics deals with motion. Often motion is described by parabolas, which is the humping arch where something goes up and then down.”
A native of Chicago, Larson received degrees from the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Serving in the Coast Guard for 21 years, he worked on a lot of electronic and computer projects before obtaining his teaching credential from San Jose State University.
Larson, who taught at Wilcox for 13 years, retires this month. “I tell my students that as we get older and look back on our lives, the things that were hardest are the things we will take most pride in accomplishing,” he says. “Teaching has been a tough job but also incredibly rewarding.”