Augusta Harison-Denby is head of drama at Dulwich College Beijing (DCB). A UK native, Harison Denby taught at a small international school in a town in Malasian Borneo for three years. “Although the year-round sun and beautiful white sand beaches were fabulous – and who doesn’t love an Orangutan? – my husband and I are city people and realized we missed living in a big, vibrant capital city,” she says. Professionally, Harison-Denby was seeking the challenge of working in a bigger school, and was drawn toward DCB’s drama department, which offers drama through to the IB level. “It was a fantastic career opportunity for me, and I couldn’t wait to live in a place again where live theater was actually a thing that happened,” she shares. Harison-Denby has now lived in Beijing over a year and tells beijingkids more about herself in our Meet the teacher blog series.
What was your favorite subject when you were a student?
Math. Gotta love trig. Ha! No. Not really. It was drama. (I’m nothing if not consistent). I also loved English. Essentially I loved stories, telling stories, characters, and exploring ideas and themes through performance. I felt like drama also included so many other subjects within it: English, history, sociology, PSHE, psychology, anthropology. Drama is also the study of people and our history and our changing beliefs, and can also teach us so much more about other cultures around the world. (I sound like I’m giving the GCSE talk on Year 9 Options Evening.)
What did you want to be when you were a kid? What other career options did you explore before teaching?
Before the age of about 13, I wanted to be something different every week. Usually based upon whatever film I had seen at the time. Jurassic Park? Paleontologist. Twister? Storm Chaser. The Mighty Ducks? Ice-hockey player. (Although female ice-hockey is non-contact. Lame.) Then I decided I wanted to be actress, and that was the plan until I was twenty-one and realized I hated auditions and wanted to actually own a house one day. I had been helping out at my old youth theater and absolutely loved working with the kids there. Teacher training came next, and here I am.
How would you (or your students) describe your teaching style?
Depends on the class! Probably something like, “energetic” or “lively” or “tries to tell jokes but isn’t funny.” I did once have a class that said I made it “easy to learn” which was pretty nice. I did it through telling jokes that weren’t funny.
What was your favorite book growing up? What are you currently reading?
I loved the book Goodnight Mister Tom. I wanted to live in 1942 and be evacuated to a small village and run around in long grey socks and buckle shoes shouting “whizzo!” and “yippee!” and eating homegrown vegetables. Possibly not the most accurate representation of evacuee life.
Currently I am reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It’s about a dystopian future in which life has become so bleak we all spend most of our time inside a huge virtual reality called the OASIS. The premise of the novel is that the multi-billionaireowner of the OASIS has died, and will leave his fortune and the company to anyone who can find the three keys and gates that he has hidden inside the virtual worlds. It’s a bit nerdy but I do love a good adventure story. Plus it keeps mentioning things from my childhood like Atari computers and John Hughes movies.
How do you like to relax on the weekends?
I’d like to say something cool like ”discovering new indie bands in bars downtown while I sip locally brewed beers,” but unfortunately I am, essentially, a hermit. I like to spend weekends watching a lot of Netflix and reading a lot of Buzzfeed. Occasionally I can be tempted out the house by theatre tickets or a good film at the cinema, or the promise of cake (usually the latter). I used to do more running in Kota Kinabalu than I do now; I foolishly signed up to the Great Wall Half Marathon back in May. Five kilometres of feeling great. Sixteen kilometres of utter regret. I think I’ll stick with Netflix.
Where do you like to go on holiday?
Anywhere I can get a flight! (Air Asia I miss you.) I’ve travelled extensively round South East Asia with my husband since we’ve been abroad and we would love to see South America as it’s somewhere neither of us have been. I like to go to a range of different places, combinations of relaxing beach resort holidays, city breaks, and alsothings more adventurous. (I’ve abseiled down waterfalls in Vietnam, don’tchaknow. #supercool)
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I am a pretty competent drummer. I don’t really tell people because then they try and make me play in bands. And that would mean I’d have to stay up past ten.
What’s currently on your playlist?
I have the most embarrassing music taste…I almost don’t want to share it. I am a thirty-one year old woman and I can’t stop listening to Taylor Swift. Shake it Off is my jam. I used to lie in public about my shameful love of pop but now I embrace it. If Buzzfeed says it’s ‘ironically cool’, then that’s good enough for me. Although, I have recently been enjoying some NWA which has given me a little more credibility.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
It’s such a cliché, but I love it when I see students do things or achieve things that they didn’t think they could. I remember a Year 7 boy from a few years back winning a ‘mini-saga’ competition I’d set up with the English class I was teaching. As I read out third place, and then second place, you could see on all of the boys’ faces (it was a boys’ school) that they were convinced the winner would be the same boy who won everything. Not little Zac who struggled with reading and writing and would find it hard to get above a level 3 in English. When I read out his name as the winner (and he was deservedly so), the shock on his face and the cheers by the rest of the class was a moment I won’t forget. He won a book token and sought me out the next week to tell me what books he’d bought with his voucher.