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“Our Teachers: Their Story” with Northside Drama Teacher Ms. Natalie McCrary

Ms. Natalie McCrary doesn’t waste a single minute of time. As students are lined up to enter her classroom, she is already in the hall eagerly greeting them with an enthusiastic smile and a spirited hello that is so contagious the students are already glowing to be inside her drama classroom. “Being a teacher makes me feel energized, being with the kids is so energizing,” Ms. McCrary said of her time in the classroom.

Currently in her second year of teaching at Northside Elementary School, Ms. McCrary has created a “home” within the classroom for herself and her students. “I make homes for people,” Ms. McCrary explains this is her motto, a motto that was given to her by her high school drama teacher. “When I graduated high school, my teacher pulled me aside and told me I create homes for people,” she said, “And that motto has led me throughout my life.”  It was always a natural ability within Ms. McCrary to bring others in and make them feel at home, her high school teacher just vocalized it and the sentiment has carried Ms. McCrary through her life’s journey.

The start of Ms. McCrary’s arts journey began in her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. “Greenville is a thriving arts district,” she said, “There is so many opportunities for youth to be involved in the arts there.” Ms. McCrary attended an arts elementary school and arts middle school before auditioning and getting accepted into the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, all which impacted her future and drama career in powerful ways.

As a self-proclaimed quiet and awkward kid, she attributes drama classes for overcoming her shyness and finding her voice.  It was within the dynamic theater community, Ms. McCrary discovered her words mattered. “All my best memories have happened in my theater class,” she said, “I have vivid memories of being backstage to get ready for my parts in big plays at the end of the school year… the hustle and bustle of hitting my marks. As a shy kid these experiences brought a lot out of me.” It was also during her school years that she knew she wanted to become a drama teacher.

“All my teachers believed in me and each teacher impacted me in such distinct and different ways,” Ms. McCrary said, “In elementary school, drama gave me laughs and giggles. I learned the pure joy of drama. Middle school provided me with the technical tools for drama and acting. My high school drama teacher not only inspired me in theater but also as a person. I knew I wanted to be a teacher at this point and my teacher would show me her behind the scenes of teaching. She really helped me make goals and reach them.”

While studying theater education at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, Ms. McCrary loved working in the costume shop and becoming a teaching assistant for the costume teacher.  With a semester abroad in London, which she declares has the “best theater in the world”, her intensive theater studies energized her for the career path she was heading down.

Fate would keep Ms. McCrary within the Rock Hill community. Northside Elementary School’s drama teacher position had opened as she was nearing college graduation. After a bold interview, she knew God was placing her there and she followed her faith that Northside was meant to be her next home. “The best part of this job is I get to teach every kid in this school. And I get to teach them year after year. I love that I get to be involved in so many people’s lives.”

Ms. McCrary’s class structure is a mixture of everything learned on her journey to becoming a teacher but her focus is “creating through collaborating.” Skills learned in the classroom focus on fostering creativity and promoting collaboration within a group setting. “Drama is the best place to learn how to work with peers, overcome a problem, and create solutions,” she said, “And also to reiterate that their voice matters, their ideas matter.” Mistakes are part of the learning process and she wants no student to fear mistakes. “I teach that you are allowed to make mistakes. When you make a mistake, you can laugh about it then learn from it and figure out what else can I do.”

For shy students, that all will take time. Ms. McCrary wants shy children to shine but knows the process is slower, but she is still able to create a safe “home” for them in her classroom.  “For my shy students to face their insecurities and fears, they have to trust me and they have to trust their classmates.”  She knows first-hand what it’s like to be shy, but she also knows first-hand the wonderful feeling she felt when she found her voice. She wants the same for her students. “Their words matter, their ideas matter,” Ms. McCrary says with visible passion.

Last school year, Ms. McCrary remembers a strong impact she had on an extremely shy fifth grade student. Every week in class, the fifth grader was too scared to participate in the scene exercises all her classmates were performing. “I told her she can be an active member of the class by watching and providing feedback,” Ms. McCrary said of her approach to help the student overcome her fears, “I allowed this for a couple weeks but eventually explained it will be her turn one day. Not today, maybe not next week, but I got her mentally ready that the time will come.” When the first time came, Ms. McCrary stood beside the student the whole time. Then next time, off to the side. Progressing each week, Ms. McCrary said eventually this shy 5th grader performed every week by herself and has come out of her shell.

Not all classroom lessons involve performing; Ms. McCrary gets their creative minds working in several ways. “My second graders create stories based on titles I give them,” she said, “I might tell them the title is ‘The Snowman’s Adventure’ or ‘The Best Tuesday Ever’ and see what story they create from that.” Ms. McCrary also incorporates crossover learning by using drama methods to teach other subjects. “I have my first graders learn about plants through integration script,” she said, “To teach the kids about plant adaptions or predators, I might script a story about an Oaktree that thinks he has a moss problem, so the tree brings his concerns to the mayor. We will learn about the tree and his environment by scripting what the conversation between the tree and the mayor would look like.”

When Ms. McCrary is not teaching youngsters at Northside, she is playing volleyball in an adult league, sewing t-shirt quilts, baking recipes, and hiking the outdoors. Her spring break plans? She will be hiking the full 80 mile trail of Foothill Trail, starting at Oconee State Park in Georgia and ending in Table Rock in North Carolina.   

Teachers make a difference in lives. Rock Hill has some of the best educators around. Ms. McCrary is one of those teachers not only for her classroom lessons but for how she makes each and every student feel valued. Her nurturing side is accompanied by her self-proclaimed silly side. “I hope to be remembered as the silly, fun drama teacher. My goal as an elementary school teacher is not to produce actors, my goal is to give them a positive association with my art form!”


drama teacher for Northside on stage