As a 15-year-old teaching Sunday school in Ehrhardt, S.C., Larry Brown said he knew he wanted to follow in the profession of his parents and become a schoolteacher.

He fulfilled that goal years ago, and has now achieved one of the highest honors a teacher can receive. Brown, who teaches English to seventh and eighth grade students at West Extended Elementary School, has been named the D.C. public schools' teacher of the year for 1988.

It was Brown's enthusiasm for his job that brought him teacher of the year honors, said Cecile Middleton, the D.C. public school official in charge of the program. "He makes kids think," she said.

Middleton said Brown, who was selected from among 12 applicants, brings to his teaching much of the experience he gained before coming to the school.

Brown had been a social worker in Savannah, Ga., and a special-education teacher in Rockville before taking the job at West four years ago. He also had studied for a doctorate in school psychology at Howard University.

These experiences, Brown said, have helped him approach his job in a way that goes beyond the classroom. He said he works to boost the self-esteem of his students and to develop programs that enhance their learning potential. In addition to the traditional English class teachings, Brown said, he tries to involve his students in role-playing and writing exercises.

He said the students at West, a kindergarten through eighth grade school at Farragut Street between 13th and 14th streets NW, are to be credited in his selection as teacher of the year.

"I am fortunate to have a lot of students who are motivated. They want to learn and are thirsty for knowledge," he said.

Brown said he has also worked hard to bring parents into the education process, calling them when students fail to report to class on time -- and when things are going well.

"I not only call home for negative things but for positive things . . . the children get a real kick out of that," Brown said, adding that he believes in rewarding both the parents and the students.

The school's principal, Cornelia Hopkins, has been at the forefront of the school's goal of "empowering students for success," Brown said.

He said discipline is seldom a problem in his classes, in large part because he makes clear his goals and expectations for his students. "They understand what I want them to do and where I want them to go."

Brown, a resident of Columbia Heights, is copresident of West's PTA and is involved with Parents United, the parent advocacy group.

Middleton said that as teacher of the year, Brown will represent the District at several school events and will be a candidate for national teacher of the year. The program is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Good Housekeeping magazine and Encyclopaedia Britannica.