DAA Daily

“It was Something Others Recognised i Me Before I Recognised it Myself” – Catherine Gilling talks Creativity and Imagination

By: Tina Fares, Staff Reporter, and Jessica Merjaneh, Staff reporter, The Pawprint

Mrs. Catherine Gilling is new to the DAA community, but not new to GEMS. The wonderful teacher has lived in Dubai for the past three years, and lived in the UK before that. She has also lived in Ireland. She enjoys spending her time in rural Herefordshire, UK.  Her interests mainly include Dancing, art, music, and of course eating fine cuisine. Mrs. Gilling has four children, three boys and one girl. Mrs. Gilling has written several books and pieces, however as of right now her work is private but she hopes to publish it in the near future.

Why did you pick English?

Stories, creative writing and my imagination is how it all started. I was always creating crafting stories, reading and writing. English was my favorite subject at school and it was a subject of which I used to win prizes at school. I have been working for decades but since I love my subject I have kept to it in other areas. Some things I have worked on include a practitioner and a professional whether that has been directing or writing. But I always come back to teaching. 

Why did you move to Dubai?

There were several factors that led to my move here. I had taught internationally before I had 4 children who grew up educated in the UK. When they finished their education, I was free to work internationally again which I did. I like the cultural mix here in Dubai and love the fact that in DAA, we have around 105 countries represented. I think it is a really wonderful basis for an education since students are already learning so much more in global situations than they would be elsewhere. Obviously the weather is a big factor since the UK is rainy for the majority of the year, which is not the case here in Dubai. I love the sunshine and the warmth that the weather gives us. Overall I would say that I really had an interest when I was searching my brain for ideas for another book which’s main focus was about global citizenship. Working in an international school and teaching the IB (International Baccalaureate), I was going to learn alot about the importance of thinking globally and the notion of global citizenship and what it means and how it actually is going to be progressive step for humanity. However Covid-19 kind of put a hold on that book and it’s ideas and planning. I have also taught in so many different situations and lots of different educational pedagogies but I never taught the IB before I came out here. Getting trained up in the IB was very interesting and it taught me alot.  

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

It was something others recognised in me before I recognised it myself. Even when I was a 6th Former at school, I was often asked to be a prefect to go and sit with the younger classes. Many people saw that ability in me however the main factor is my love of the subject. My love for drama, the creative arts and just wanting to work in that area in general. I feel that it is a real privilege to work with younger people and to help show and shape their thinking. This is a two-way process since I also gain so much from it. I really believe that young people are our future which makes them so immensely important and their mentoring and education crucial. They are the makers and shapers of tomorrow, the people that will change society going forwards so it is a tremendous privilege to have a part in that process. 

What is your favorite thing about this school?

My favorite thing about this school is that the people right at the top, from the CEO to the heads, to the deputy heads is one that I respect and relate to. They work so well collaboratively together and they have everyone’s well-being in mind whether that’s the student’s well-being or the staffs’. There is this pursuit of excellence in all areas which means that the students are going to be really well-rounded. If your thing is sport, there’s an opportunity for you to thrive here; if your thing is creating new recipes and cooking them you can still thrive here; if your thing is acting then you can also thrive here. Nevertheless I have worked in a lot of schools, yet I feel really glad to be here and proud to represent this school. 

What is your teaching philosophy? 

My rule is to meet the students where they are and to encourage them into a higher level of thinking. However, I always keep in mind how each student is at a different starting point and that unless I have that in my head, I will not get the best out of them. In addition, I feel that one of the most important things is to appreciate each of those starting points. That is what I have always gone by. A saying I have lived by is “be firm but be fair”. I have always said that if people were to describe me as a teacher they would say she is firm but always fair. Someone once asked me which one was more important of those two – to be firm or to be fair. I replied with a 50/50 because there is absolutely no point in being firm when you are not being fair when something is wrong. What is being fair if you are not firm to make sure everyone learns and succeeds?

What frustrates you the most?

In my experience in this school, nothing really frustrates me when it comes to the classroom. I love the length of the less since you can get alot done without it being too much, the students are great and discipline is good. However, there is a common thought that I do think about regularly and do not necessarily agree with it. This is the way things are going in education when it comes to the reliance on IT. I see this as a slight frustration because if all the IT was to stop working overnight, learning would not really be able to happen with covid and the discovery of online learning, it might possibly be too late to turn back. Back in the day, people used to find their way around using the stars. Now however, we use google maps. If those technologies failed, could they still find their way around? When I was a kid, I was taught to read a map to find my way. Most people now cannot even read the map. This is not a frustration but just something I think about and need to still wrap my head around. This is the new way of life essentially. There is no way of turning back.

What is your book about and how many have you written?

The most recent one is a very dramatic life story of the life and work of Europe’s leading metal sculpture of birds and beasts who is a very famous artist called Walenty Pytel. The book is called ‘Life, Art, Sculpture’. It took over 3 years of research. I have written a lot of projects and have worked for a labrative arts company, and written collaborative art projects for schools. I have also written poetry and gone to poetry workshops. My books have not been published but I have worked on the Brian Patten project which is the biography of another brilliant artist who was killed in the first world war. The other things I have written, I have not gotten around to submitting them for publication.

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