Alma McLachlan was always good at math. After graduating from high school in 1933 she became a book keeper, but even then her mind was set on other things. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” says the 104-year-old.
She attended Calgary Normal School and in 1939 began her teaching career in a rural one-room school house near Torrington, teaching grades 1 to 9. Stuart School sat alone on a patch of prairie and Alma boarded with families of students. “I was nervous about riding a horse,” she says of the conveyance typically used to get to school, so she often walked instead. Some cold winter days she would get a ride from a family with a horse and buggy. On cold days Alma made soup on the woodstove, the building’s only source of heat. “I was lucky,” she says. “A Grade 9 boy stoked the fire and took care of keeping the school warm.”
Teaching nine grades at the same time in the same room was a challenge she met by getting the older students to help the younger ones.
Alma moved on to teach in Nanton and Lacombe. Her career then took her to Mount Royal College where she taught for three years and was Commercial Department Head for one year. She continually upgraded her education through attending summer schools, ultimately graduating with a BA from the University of Washington and BEd from the University of Alberta. She taught at Queen Elizabeth, Western Canada, and Crescent Heights high schools in Calgary, retiring from the Calgary Board of Education in 1980.
“She inspired me,” says Alma’s daughter, Betty Poulsen (BEd ’02), who recalls her mother marking, planning lessons, and filling out report cards until 3:00am. “She was creative, always looking for interesting and engaging ways to teach.”
Poulsen earned an MA degree and taught dance at the universities of Calgary and Lethbridge before pursuing a BEd in Lethbridge and piloting the first high school dance program south of Calgary at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute. “I remember thinking my mother was the smartest person in the world,” she says. “She could answer any question, and if she couldn’t she would look it up.”
“I love to learn,” Alma says. “I still do.”
Writer: Elizabeth McLachlan, Photographer: Rob Olson
Click to read more of the Faculty of Education Legacy magazine (2008-2020)
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