Getting students at Dulwich College in touch with their dramatic side
Katrina MacGuire was encouraged to take up drama by her mother as a way of overcoming her shyness and stepping out of the shadows of her eight brothers and sisters. Having taught for four years at a drama college in England, Katrina sought out a new challenge and eventually found her way to Dulwich College in Beijing. tbjkids sat down and talked to Katrina about her love for shopping, dumplings, and why she still hasn’t gotten around to taking Chinese lessons.
Where are you from?
I’m from Blackpool in England. Before coming to Beijing, I spent four years in Doncaster at a drama college. It was quite different from what we have at Dulwich because we had seven drama teachers, and now it’s just me.
What brought you to Beijing?
It wasn’t so much Beijing – I was looking for a new challenge. I was in such a good school that I had everything I wanted like a massive drama department, good results and excellent facilities, but I wanted a new challenge and to go into the international scene, in terms of working with different students from different cultures and trying to make drama seen as an academic subject abroad. That’s my challenge at the moment.
When did you become interested in drama?
Probably from a young age, because I was incredibly shy. I come from a really big family – four brothers and four sisters – and I was the youngest, so my mum was always trying to find ways to push me forward. Through drama, I became a lot more confident. I started getting into youth theater, the Blackpool pantomime and things like that. I fell in love with theater, so I went down to Canterbury to study for my degree. I think being a drama teacher is the best job ever: I get to have fun, I get to direct, I get to teach, I get to write, I get to act, and it’s just fabulous.
How do you encourage shy students in your classes?
I always say the best thing to do is to get your hand up at the beginning of the lesson, when you definitely know an answer, rather than waiting for the teacher to call on you. If you try and get in there with something, just once a lesson, then you’ve achieved something.
What’s the best thing about being a teacher in Beijing?
It’s very, very different. It’s probably the pupils really. They come from so many backgrounds and they’ve all got something to share. Even though I’d been teaching for four years back in the UK, I was wondering if [my techniques were]going to be suitable for the students. Their knowledge about theater is very different, so I’m learning from them all the time. Also, at this school, the amount of performances going on is great. We’ve already had a Moonlight Madness, where anyone can get on stage and perform. There’s so much potential for kids to get on stage all the time.
How have you adapted to life in China?
It’s been pretty difficult. I arrived in China in August and I still haven’t sorted out any Chinese classes yet. Taxi drivers are a nightmare at the moment. There are quite a few of us who go around in a pack together, and people here are so friendly so that’s not too bad. I’m getting by.
What are the main challenges of teaching in Beijing?
As a drama teacher you’ve always got to justify your subject as being academic. My main thing is trying to make drama an academic subject with its own language, theory and history, rather than it just being about putting on a play and acting. We’re moving towards the IB curriculum so this shift needs to happen. A lot of the kids come from countries where they weren’t taught drama as a subject. It really is teaching a brand new subject to people who aren’t used to it.
What do you do to relax?
I like to read and shop and enjoy many of the fabulous restaurants that are in Beijing. Of course I love acting, but I haven’t found many opportunities to do it just yet.
What’s your favorite Chinese food?
Dumplings. We went to Tibet during the last break and it was great. We tried yak dumplings, which were great, but we got a bit tired of the yak after a while!
What’s your favorite place in Beijing?
The Temple of Heaven. I went at about six o’clock one evening and it was so peaceful. It just made me think: Wow, this is China!
How do you interact with the wider community?
One of the main reasons I came to China was to work with Chinese children, and Dulwich has given me the opportunity to do that. I am trying to develop the drama side within the community. I work with the Sunshine Learning Center. They come in and work for an hour with me once a week. I do want the pupils within the school to think about how drama can be useful to the wider community.