English Literature teacher (and prolific knitter) Dr Kerryn Olsen started at ACG Sunderland in 2015. An expert in Old and Middle English with a thesis under her belt on ‘Anglo-Saxon Female Saints in Post-Conquest England’, she lives in Laingholm and likes to bodyboard in the weekends. Her husband, Dr Greg Olsen, is also a teacher at the school.
Where did you go to school?
A few places, including boarding school in India. My parents were working in Thailand and it was the closest British boarding school at the time. I now have a love/hate relationship with India – it’s a very important place, but I found the poverty really hard.
Why did you choose to become a teacher?
I spent years tutoring at university, then I became a librarian for a year in Helensville. At one point I ran a continuing education course at university in Old English and it made me realise that teaching was in fact an important part of what I wanted to do with my life.
Teaching Year 13 is not actually that different from teaching first year at university, especially as I get to teach some of the same texts. With Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, I even got my students to say they really liked Chaucer by the end of it. Even though they had to learn Middle English, it’s quite fun – and even a little bit raunchy!
What do you enjoy about English Literature?
I love stories, I love the ideas of other worlds, the escapism. I love that you can read something that people were reading 500 or 600 years ago and the stories are still relevant.
I try to share that enthusiasm with my students, so every Friday we do a book club. They don’t have to write or prepare anything – they just need to talk about a book they love.
I believe the more you read the easier it is to read, and the more you learn. I just want students to read a lot. It doesn’t matter what. It doesn’t need to be classics. They just have to read.
What is your favourite thing about ACG Sunderland?
I like that it’s a small, family-based school with a community feel. I know all the kids in the high school. There’s a huge focus on teaching and great support here.
You run ACG Sunderland’s knitting club?
Knitting keeps my hands busy. It’s a way of fiddling that actually produces something. It helps me to focus, to listen and to relax.
The club runs at lunchtime, with a mix of guys and girls. The idea is to make baby clothes to take to the newborns at Waitakere hospital, but we have a lot of beginners so in two years we’ve only got two jumpers and six pairs of booties!
What’s it like to work with your husband?
We’ve just had our 17 year anniversary and in that time we’ve worked at the same place more often than not. It’s helpful to be able to discuss the students together and work out any problems or strategies. We both love dealing with the kids, so it’s easy for us.
How would people describe you, in three words?
Weird, approachable, involved.