Theater takeover

SHS brings in new theater teacher for the second half of the school year


Grace Elder

New theater teacher Caleb Francis was a student teacher here back in 2021

When Caleb Francis first stepped foot in SHS, he could feel his heart racing. Everything was new. It was his first ever experience navigating teaching on his own in an actual classroom. However, with the help of his late advising teacher, Kimberly Roberts, his restlessness quickly faded away.

“I was nervous maybe until day one, I came in day two ready to rock and roll,” Francis said.

Francis came as a student teacher for the theater department the second semester of 2021 when hybrid school was the norm. Because fewer students were present in school due to the hybrid schedule, there were not enough students for Francis to teach.

Fortunately, choir director Jaclyn Richardson decided that it would be a good idea for Francis to do a musical unit with her choir students. During his time with the choir department, the students fell in love with Francis’s personality and his way of teaching. Junior Van Mawi in particular felt a great chemistry with Francis when he introduced theater to the choir class.

“I don’t remember the exact date, but all I know is that when I met him, it was one of the best days of my life,” Mawi said.

As Francis would like to describe himself, he is a character. A character who creates a fun inviting atmosphere where his students can trust him and where he can trust his students. Many of his former students at SHS believe that one of his strongest qualities is how easily he can resonate with his students and create a comfortable environment for them to express themselves.

“He’s probably one of the best teachers you’ll ever meet in your life. He’s going to connect with you mentally and personally,” Mawi said.

Before leaving SHS his first time, Francis left a memorable piece for his students believing that he’d have no reasons to come back. He left a pink sign in the choir classroom that wrote “Work it girl, confidence!” Though a simple sign itself holds little significance, it showcases Francis’s personality and the warmth he creates for his students. With this little sign and the time he spent teaching at SHS, Francis left his students with a greater impact than he thought. One of those students, junior Meredith Ziegler, reflects on her time with him as a student teacher.

“When he left it, I didn’t think much of it,” Ziegler said. “As I look back in the years, it makes me remember him just as a student teacher, which, I didn’t think a student teacher would leave as much of a mark as it did.”

According to Ziegler, when she first met Francis, she was a different person. She was a shy freshman who had little role in the theater department. She was afraid to get out of her comfort zone, and Francis, who had a big personality, scared her. As she attended more of Francis’s classes, she could feel herself getting comfortable and loving theater more.

“Taking his class really allowed me to break out of my shell and become a more important person in theater and get back in theater,” Ziegler said.

Similar to Ziegler, junior Lexi Nix was a changed student after meeting Francis. Nix has always been involved in theater going as far back as middle school, but she never would have thought she’d hold such an important role in SHS’s theater department. It all started when Francis held a dance workshop for the theater students and praised Nix for her dancing ability and suggested she take a dance class to further enhance her ability. Francis didn’t realize at the time that his little bit of guidance would create the lead choreographer for many theater productions at SHS.

After Roberts passed away, questions arose about who should fill her position. Finding someone to take over such a vital role in the theater department was overwhelming. To Richardson, an unknown teacher coming in the middle of the year not knowing anything was not ideal.

“When we were looking for someone to hire, we knew it was going to be tricky because of the circumstances,” Richardson said.

She wanted a familiar face to come back into town to lessen this stiff environment. In Richardson’s mind, this person was Francis. Fortunately, Francis was fond of coming to SHS, even leaving his position as a theater teacher in Springfield, Missouri. Richardson believed that out of the worst situation, this was the best possible scenario.

It was not an easy decision for Francis to make, however. He had already established a comfortable space for him to live in Missouri. But, Francis had great love for what the theater program of SHS had to offer. The diversity of the program and how it is heavily student oriented was what really drew in Francis. According to Francis, it was also convenient that his family and friends reside in Indiana. Although this was a big change for both the theater students of SHS and Francis’s life, it’s as if Francis never left.

“It’s going to take some time to figure some things out, but I am excited to figure those things out,” Francis said.