Olsen, Sally



Job Title



University of British Columbia

EDST Degree/s and graduation year/s

MA, 2001; GC, 1970


Adult Learning and Education (ALE)


Kanata, Ontario, Canada


After obtaining my degree in Special Education from UBC in 1970, then teaching a grade 2 class, I was seconded as the Itinerant Remedial Teacher for the whole of the primary section in West Vancouver. I then became a Mom to two boys and was a Duffer Doo Co-ordinator (nursery school age), president of the Parent Teachers Association, and did freelance work for Co-operative Games for Family Pastimes and Terry Orlick, University of Ottawa Kinesiology Department . I taught English as a Second Language classes in France for two years as a volunteer at the boy’s school. Getting back to full-time work when the boys were in high school, I taught Adult Literacy and Adult ESL classes. I started five programs in homes for the mentally challenged, and drove a motorhome around to five different local libraries outside the Ottawa area to provide computer classes for adults, including Adult Literacy, Adult ESL classes and supervising and encouraging students taking correspondence courses. I taught for one year in Japan at an after-school tutoring business, teaching in four different locations, nursery school to adult EFL classes. I then returned to Carleton University for my Masters in the School of Linguistics and Language Studies and worked in the summers for my professors as an in-class tutor for the students from other countries. I next worked in Mongolia as a teacher for a private school, again EFL, from grades 1 to 10. In Greenland the following year, I was the ESL Consultant for Carleton University for three communities in one year and taught another year at the high school in Ilulissat from grades 7 to 12. In Vancouver, I was a seasonal instructor for UBC’s First Year Business Communication courses. I also started my doctorate in Anthropology. Finally in Mongolia again, I was the Head English Teacher for the government workers preparing for their Master’s courses in Australia. Since retiring in 2007, I have been a member of the Junkyard Symphony Company as a workshop leader, Sustainable Sally. I am recording secretary for PEO, an organization that promotes the higher education of young women: on the board of Kids on the Block, a program to explain differences to children in elementary school: and I am continuing taking courses to complete my doctorate in Anthropology and Language Studies from Carleton University.

Email: olsen_sally@yahoo.com

Sally’s Story

Tell us a little about your career journey. Are there any transitions in your career path or any key moments that led to a change in direction?

Graduated with a B.Ed from UBC in 1970 but I had actually been teaching since 1968. Teachers were in high demand and I was asked to teach in West Vancouver after my second year in Education. I had a background as a Child Care Worker at the Ester Irwin Home for Special Children so had practical experience with children on a day to day basis with the back up of the staff – social workers, teachers, and psychiatrist. That experience plus the second practical year of Education prepared me well for my grade two job as I had over half a class of special students – deaf, accelerated, non-reading, autistic and cleptomaniac. It helps to have a varied background when you go into Education through your summer jobs or even a year or two after high school. It also helps financially. I was able to take summer courses and evening courses to finish off my third year and after teaching another year at the West Vancouver Board Office as an Intinerant Remedidal Teacher was able to afford to go full-time for my fourth and final year. Life doesn’t have to go according to some imaginary timetable. Being an Intinerant teacher gave me many new experiences with one on one teaching and specialized programs developed for Special Education. Unfortunately the International Teaching Alphabet didn’t have a future but it was exciting while we used it. I guess adaptation is the key – the power will go out, you will get new students in the class after you have built a family, you will lose students when they move away, there are school politics to deal with, supply issues but most of all dealing with parents and their expectations. I could have used more classes in that aspect. The biggest change came when I got pregnant and started my own private school with my own kids and whoever in the neighbourhood they were friends with. That lasted until they were in high school but allowed me to see the schools from the parent’s perspective by being on Parent Councils and volunteering. You learn a lot. Then I started back part-time so I could still drive my kids to hockey, etc. in an Adult Literacy class which also included ESL. I continued that in many forms – in an evening course, travelling to different venues in my car – Itinerant again – a community facility with day classes, a motorhome to go around the countryside -really Intinerant. I decided to go back for my Masters and continued my career by travelling and teaching ESL to all ages in Japan, Mongolia, Greenland and the Amazon River on a boat. I ended my career at UBC in Business teaching the Business English Course 100. I am retired but do workshops for an environmental company, Junkyard Symphony’s Groovy Games Gallery that we run out of my home. I also do workshops for Co-operative Games. It is a part-time job but very stimulating or stimulating enough for me at 80 years old.

How did you envision your career journey when you started your EDST program? And how did your career journey actually take off?

That is so long ago, I am not sure what I thought. I imagine like most women of that era in the 70’s I thought I would get married, have children, and then be able to go back to teaching. That is what happened. I think my career took off when I was recruited by the West Vancouver School Board because I had a speciality in Special Education and was given a classroom of children with special needs. It took off later in my life when I was no longer as responsible for family duties and was able to travel.

Did your expectations for your career trajectories after graduation align with what really ended up happening? in what ways did they differ?

I had always travelled as much as I could when offered the possibilites and had the money but travelling for teachng and getting paid for it was an added bonus. I never thought of going to one school and staying there until promoted or until retirement. I had the dream of teaching in every country in the world for two years – you need to stay the second year because the first year is spent learning the language, the school system, the culture and so on. The second year is so much more rewarding.

What is next for you, or do you know?

I am enjoying doing workshops and learning with my grandchildren. I would like to go to further countries – I have only taught in Canada (several cities), France, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland and the Amazon River. At 80 years old though it is going to be difficult to find a position I imagine but after my grandchildren are in high school, I would like to try to Ethiopia and hope they stop fighting by then. It has temperatues in the twenties most days and I am tired of winters and humid summers (in Ottawa at the moment). Try Dave’s ESL cafe for a job overseas and work for a private school if you can. If it is good, they will treat you like family.