Teacher Feature: Betsy Cornwell and Kris Andrews

Center for Educator Development in Fine Arts proudly presents Theatre Teachers Betsy Cornwell and Kris Andrews. Betsy Cornwell and Kris Andrews teach at James Bowie High School in the Ausin Independent School District.

"We work together on almost everything," says Betsy Cornwell

“I think one of the things that makes us unique in working together is that we always have someone to bounce ideas off of,” says Kris Andrews.

Question: Why do you teach theatre?

Kris Andrews says,
"I can't picture myself doing anything else but what I do. I think if I had desires to be an actor or desires to go into the business world, that would be one reason to leave. But it's a great feeling to drive home and smile, and know that you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing and reaching kids and making a positive impact on society. I mean it sounds so noble when you say it like that, but it's really how I feel."

Betsy Cornwell says,
"I can't imagine teaching anything but theatre. The key point, of course, for both of us, is that we're teachers first. And teaching theatre gives us so many opportunities to connect with the kids that you can't in a lot of the other subject areas. That connection is what makes everyday worth going to work."

Question: How does theatre education benefit students?

“Theatre training instills leadership skills, socialization, and the ability to work in an ensemble," says Betsy Cornwell, "Kris found an article recently in a magazine that we were looking at about CEOs of major corporations complaining about the fact that their high executives were really lacking in communication skills and teaching theatre is basic."

Kris Andrews says,
"And those interpersonal relationships that you develop are the backbone of who we become and that article was so fascinating because it really narrowed in on the fact that people are leaving colleges and universities without the skills that we're sending them out of as a freshman or sophomore. You know, 15 or 16 years old, they're walking out of our classroom being successful. And we're doing that."

Question: How has technology impacted theatre education?

Kris Andrews says, “One of the coolest things that I think we’ve done with technology is to connect with our community.”

"One of the things that we utilize with our communication with our parents is e-mail addresses. When parents come to our open houses we'll get their e-mail address. Then, once we've put our kids in groups and they start to work, we'll walk around with a digital camera and just take pictures of them in action. And it's so neat to go to your computer, and it takes less than two minutes to put those in and e-mail them home and it's just really simple to say, 'Great things are happening at James Bowie High School. See what your kid is doing.'"

Betsy Cornwell says, "So often the only connection a parent has with a teacher is when little Johnny has done something wrong in class or there's a question about a grade. When you connect with a parent and show them how a child is engaged, it is like opening up a new world to them."

Kris Andrews says, "Here is a perfect example of really using technology to drive a point home. We were doing a production right after the September 11 attacks, and I was driving around town when Dan Rather came on my radio. I thought, 'Wow! Something else happened! What's going on?' Well, Dan Rather was talking about what happens when you declare war, how all the medicines are sent to seven different locations. And I found it very interesting because I didn't know any of that information. It struck me when I got back to school, and I said to Betsy, 'We've just declared war as a nation! How can we produce a play?' 'How can we do that? How can we open a show and not even address what's happening in the world?' And we thought and thought about it, and after talking to our kids, we decided to put together a PowerPoint presentation for the audience to view before the show. It was very simple. It just said, 'Welcome to James Bowie High School's Romeo and Juliet.' We used an excerpt from a story about coal miners and a canary. Coal miners used to take a canary down into the mines with them. If the canary quit singing, the coal miners knew that they had to evacuate because the mine had become unsafe. On one slide we simply put, 'Let us be that canary for you. Because in this dark time of not knowing, we want to be that canary. Let us sing. Enjoy our song.'"

"It was amazing. Our audiences applauded, and many parents came up to us and thanked us just for acknowledging what had happened and making it real to their kids. We were affected by what was happening in the world, just like everyone else."

Question: Why should a young person become a theatre teacher?

Betsy Cornwell says, "I can't think of a better profession for a college student to go into if they want to work with kids. The social interaction you get with kids when you're in a theatre class is very fine-tuned. And every day you smile. Occasionally you cry, but you always achieve something."

Kris Andrews says, "I think it's the most rewarding thing a person can do. I think that teaching theatre teaches life and what better examples—to explore that through literature, to explore it through their emotions. You get close with kids and you connect with them in a way that very few people get to connect with them."

Question: How have the TEKS impacted your program?

Betsy Cornwell says, “I think it is critical that theatre teacher across the state understand how important the TEKS are to the curriculum that they are teaching.”

"The TEKS make our students more specialized. Once they've taken a beginning level class and learned all the objectives in that class, they have all these skills that they are able to put into practice when they get on the stage. For students who participate in our program and have not taken the lower level class, we almost have to reteach skills."

Kris Andrews says, "And, I think the TEKS have enhanced our program because kids recognize this. They recognize what makes Johnny special. 'Why does Johnny know how to do that?' He knows how to do that because he has training. Students see that training is vital and has nothing to do with a particular play or audition because all of that is taking place outside of class. No, Johnny's special because these techniques and this foundation were laid earlier. Students really find value in that. They notice that. And our enrollment in our Theatre I classes always goes up after a production. In just watching a rehearsal, students are watching and evaluating all the time, especially in a theatre class. They are constantly evaluating themselves and those around them. That's part of what we do."

Go Back to CEDFA