Larry House

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Tenley Peterson

Gracias a Todos:
Thanking Larry House for 34 Years of Dedication

Moving Out. Moving In.

After 34 years of service to Georgetown Day School, High School Spanish teacher Larry House is retiring. Her gratitude for and devotion to the school has spanned the whole of her GDS career, all the way back to when she first interviewed for a teaching position in 1987, in a building packed with moving boxes on MacArthur Boulevard. 

“I interviewed Larry for a teaching position in the Spanish department in the spring of 1987 at 4880 MacArthur Boulevard, just a few months before the High School relocated to 4200 Davenport Street,” said former GDS Spanish teacher Jan Braumuller. “Little did I know then that Larry and I would be colleagues for the next 27 years and how much I would benefit from her collaborative spirit. The energy and enthusiasm she brings to planning curriculum and engaging her students were outstanding, but what will endure most in my memory is her generosity of spirit and flexibility. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to her.”

Before her first visit to GDS, with the school’s third Head of School Gladys Stern and Jan, Dr. Laraine “Larry” House was an adjunct professor of Spanish literature at American University. She felt uncomfortable with the lack of job security and decided to send letters to a few independent schools in the city—“cold” letters sent even where no openings were listed. The stars seemed to align, as Larry’s letter reached GDS just after class registration revealed an increased demand for Spanish language and the need for another teacher.

“I admit I knew nothing about GDS,” Larry said. “When I learned about its history and mission, I felt doubly lucky. The school aligned with my own values, and I felt comfortable to be in such an inclusive, welcoming environment. I soon learned that the caring, on the part of the staff, the administration, and the teachers, is extraordinary.”

Larry immediately loved the small class sizes and loved being called “Larry,” not “Professor.” She loved being part of a community that was concerned with the life of students beyond how they show up in a single class. “The student is a full human being with all kinds of talent,” Larry said. Some of those students for whom she has had the “greatest admiration and closest relationships” were “not necessarily those who excelled in my particular class.” 

Committed Beyond the Classroom

Throughout her time at GDS, Larry has shown her dedication to students beyond her Spanish classes, whether through her avid support of the theater and art programs or through attendance at student-staff council meetings, the Student Voices club, or It’s Academic, and elsewhere her students are involved. “I’ve loved learning about the whole range of my students, and I’ve always tried to be supportive,” she said. Her faithfulness to the performing and visual arts programs is practically unrivaled: in her 34 years, she has visited every High School art show, attended every Fata Morgana dance performance, and has only missed a single High School show out of all the fall plays and spring musicals—“I was sick that week!” she lamented.

“Larry is a teacher who has influenced me tremendously during and after my time at GDS,” said Eliza Kravitz ’19, who is currently pursuing an advanced language certificate in Spanish at Yale and who did a yearlong independent study with Larry, focusing on the literature of the Latin American Boom of the ‘60s and ‘70s. “[She is] attentive, caring, and passionate. Her high expectations and expertise...inspired me to continue pursuing Spanish literature in college and to analyze historical literature in light of contemporary social and political conflicts.”

As noted above, Larry’s commitment to her students does not end at the classroom door—or even after graduation. In the midst of the global pandemic, for example, she attended "Marking a Year of Loss Behind Bars," a virtual vigil that Eliza organized as part of her work with Mourning Our Losses, an organization that “seeks to restore dignity to the faces and stories behind the statistics of death and illness from behind bars.” “Larry has remained an inspiration and mentor to me since I’ve left GDS,” Eliza added. 

The Gifts of Teaching

“For many personal reasons, I spent most of my high school years feeling lost and disconnected from the world,” said Schuyler Bailar ’14, now a nationally recognized advocate for inclusion, body positivity, and mental health awareness as well as a research assistant at Harvard University. “I found safety in Larry’s classroom and in her clear care towards me. Though many of my teachers were kind and compassionate towards me during that time, it was rare that someone advocated for me in the ways that Larry did—even when she didn’t have to—and for this, I am very grateful.”

Schuyler recalled feeling resistant to Larry’s pronouncement on the first day of AP Spanish that the class theme would be imagination. “I far preferred rules and regulations,” Schuyler remembered. But Larry succeeded in encouraging Schuyler’s imagination, and he recalls vividly a decade later images from the course texts—of Alicia, rubia y angelical, of the parasite hinchado from Al Almohadón de Plumas, the title character from El Ahogado Más Hermoso del Mundo, and of the fire and sparks that consume Tita and Pedro in Como Agua Para Chocolate. “Everyone who learned from her received a gift,” Schuyler said.

For her part, Larry has often felt herself to be the recipient of great gifts from the community. “I love when a student thinks up some new ideas that I haven’t heard, taught them, or even considered; [it’s one thing] I love about teaching literature. I have also enjoyed ideas and talking about teaching with colleagues. The collegiality with my colleagues here is so different from teaching on the college level, where often, colleagues protect their turf.” 

Collaboration and Inspiration

T-B, L-R: Larry House, Maribel Prieto, Jan Braumuller, Gail Massot (Head), Yvonne Sabban, Debbie Butterworth, Charles Psychos, Andrea Hoffman, Eduardo Gonzalez

Larry’s curiosity as a lifelong learner and her affinity for the performing and visual arts has led to collaborations with colleagues across disciplines. She used to audit former French teacher Charles Psychos’s French class, has served as a guest speaker on the Spanish Golden Age in history teacher Sue Ikenberry’s European history classes, shared her personal recollections of living through 1968 with Lisa Rauschart’s history classes, and enjoyed sitting in on English teacher Nadia Mahdi’s classes. Studio arts chair Michelle Cobb added an art history lens when she visited Larry’s class, when she was teaching about the painter El Greco. In past years, Larry and Maribel Prieto, chair of the High School world language department, have collaborated with the history department to offer a GDS minimester course on immigration law and history called “Walls or Bridges.”

Larry has had a long career watching the school grow. She began in September 1987 in the new High School building, which she described as “messy and intimate.” She knew nearly every face and name of the approximately 80 students per grade, and while there are now more than 100 students per grade, Larry noted, “What has not changed is the warmth and closeness between the students.”

“To be a good teacher,” Larry said, “one must stay nimble and flexible. I have been given a lot of freedom to develop courses and materials, and within that autonomy, I can encourage my students to be creative, to think, and to express their philosophy of life in Spanish.” 

Since first arriving at GDS, she has taught seven different levels of Spanish, prepared and developed courses, including two brand new ones, an advanced Spanish language course based on imaginative literature and the upper-level independent study Eliza described above. In her Introduction to Spanish Literature course, she enjoys exploring philosophy through poetry. She has watched in wonder the beautiful work students have done when she has asked them to write an ode in the style of Pablo Neruda. In other courses, she has had students write an original story about a crime—or an apocalypse—to elicit the use of advanced Spanish verb tenses in their writing. And of course, she has adored when they have responded to coursework with art.

“Larry House has always been an amazing teacher,” said former department chair Gail Massot. “When she stepped into the world of magical realism, she brought her students along for the exhilarating ride to make the invisible visible and fantasy more real than reality. Her Dream House project was astounding in its power to transform the inner world of students into creative architectural portrayals of their essential being [while building] the Spanish vocabulary necessary to express that self-exploration and discovery.”

Curtain Call

“I’m not disappearing into the mist,” Larry said. “I will continue to come for the plays and the High School Identity Art Show. Maybe I will even substitute and see my colleagues from time to time.”

Larry will be spending more time with family and continuing her work with animal welfare groups, as she has done for many years. (She was the GDS faculty sponsor for PAWS, an animal welfare club at the High School).

“She has had a lasting influence on so many, and we are all grateful to her,” Gail said.

“GDS will miss Larry dearly!” Eliza added.

“I wish Larry the most relaxing and peaceful retirement, knowing that she has touched so many students’ lives,” Schuyler finished.

Despite the chorus of GDS community voices from over the years that could surely follow, Larry gets the last word. When she teaches on Fridays, she always bids the students goodbye for the weekend with, “Hoy es GDEV! (Gracias a Dios es viernes)” or, in English, “(Today is) TGIF.”

“My final word to GDS is gratitude,” Larry said. “I’m leaving with a sense of sadness but also warmth and care. Hoy es GDEV. ¡Gracias a todos!
 

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