All the world’s a stage for retiring drama teacher

Queen’s High School head of drama Terry MacTavish is retiring after 47 years at the school. Photo...
Queen’s High School head of drama Terry MacTavish is retiring after 47 years at the school. Photo: Gregor Richardson
After 47 years of teaching at Queen’s High School, head of drama Terry MacTavish will make her final curtain call next month.

The "60-something-year-old" has been a flamboyant part of the furniture on the Queen’s set since 1971, when she started as a student teacher.

She is the last of the generation of teachers employed by the school’s founding principal, Jean Ballard.

"I had not been planning to be a teacher.

"I was going to be an actress and I had already worked with the Southern Players [theatre company] and toured New Zealand when I was 18, and I worked with the Fortune Theatre at the beginning of that, too."

But in those days, finding full-time work as an actress was very difficult, she said.So she did a teaching degree to give her a career to fall back on if acting did not work out.

"When I came here on section, thinking I needed a string to my bow, I fell in love with Queen’s."

Much of her enthusiasm for the school came from working with Dame Patricia Harrison, who later became the school’s principal.

"She was my role model and example, and when she became principal, I was very excited to be working as part of that team that pulled Queen’s together."

She started teaching English and later became head of the English department.

There was no drama department at the time, but over the years, she gradually "snuck in" drama classes and built up the subject to the point where she became a full-time drama teacher and  head of the drama department.

She estimated she had taught about 10% of Dunedin’s female population.

"I’m now teaching the grandchildren of some of my former pupils, and they come in expecting this crazy drama lady because they’ve already heard about me.

"I just love the excuse that drama gives you to really play, and I just hope like mad that I’m bringing a bit of joy into the lives of students."

Some of her former pupils have gone on to work in theatre overseas and in the film industry with Sir Peter Jackson.

Because of her experience in drama, she was on the national panel which rewrote the arts curriculum and created NCEA drama.

Throughout her teaching career, she has continued to act in productions locally, nationally and overseas.

"The acting roles have given me the variety and excitement, but the real fulfilment in my life has been watching the students develop and being able to coax many of them into theatre, film and the arts.

"I have the best of both worlds."

Miss MacTavish said she would retire at the end of this year, but hoped to continue helping the school with drama productions, while continuing to work on her own drama projects and spending time with family.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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