TEACHER OF THE MONTH — Sabine Pass theater instructor takes lessons far beyond the stage

Published 12:30 am Saturday, June 3, 2023

SABINE PASS — For Chris Rector, theater isn’t just “lights, camera, action.” Instead, the Sabine Pass High School educator is teaching confidence, life skills and — at times — providing a type of therapy for students in need.

“You have students come through that didn’t necessarily have the best upbringings or home lives at points, and you can see where this becomes a place where they feel safe and can express themselves,” he said. “They’re somewhere else. They’re someone else. And for that moment in time, they can forget everything else that’s going on and just live life through a completely different experience.”

Now in his seventh year at Sabine Pass High School, Rector on Friday was informed he had been selected as Teacher of the Month, sponsored by Philpott Motors. The designation comes with a $500 gift card, which was presented to him by Staff Accountant Kelly Beagle.

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“Knowing teachers, you’re probably going to use that for your kids,” she said as she handed him the card.

He laughed and said, “yes ma’am.”

But Beagle knows why.

“My mother was a teacher at BISD for 20-plus years before she retired, she said. “My daughter works in Frisco for the school district. My niece is a teacher in Katy ISD and she just accepted a position to go to Japan and teach English for a year. So we appreciate you.”

Rector began his teaching career 18 years ago in Wichita Falls and has taught at several districts in the state before settling into Southeast Texas.

For most of his high school life, he expected to follow band into college. But, as a student at a small school, during his senior year his band director was chosen to direct that year’s one-act play.

Chris Rector of Sabine Pass High School learns from Kelly Beagle of Philpott Motors that he’s been selected Teacher of the Month. (Monique Batson/The News)

“That’s what got me into it,” he said. “I loved it, so when I went to college I went somewhere I could do both.”

For a while he juggled the stadium and the stage before settling on theater.

“I think, for me, teaching is more just something that I enjoy, and I enjoy seeing the growth in the students rather than it is a job and a career,” he said. “It really is something that I’ve always enjoyed doing. I know it seems funny to think of theater as having so many transferable skills later in life, but there’s so much in there that’s directly relatable no matter what career or profession they go into.”

To this day he receives letters from former students thanking him for helping them get past their fear of public speaking or other aspects they were shy about when first entering his class.

“It’s fun because the kids you get on stage — some will be the ones you get on stage that are really outgoing, and some of them won’t be,” he said. “They’re really quiet and you’d never think they’d be the ones to get on stage. And then you see them in the show, and it’s absolutely amazing what they’re able to do.”

The theater instructor also teaches film. Between the two, he’s taken multiple productions and students to state over the previous years, returning with more than a dozen medals and an overall champion for District 2A. That particular placement factors in not just the production, but also the actors, chorus, overall compilation, technical side and all other aspects.

“We can’t do what we do without them,” he said of the students who work on the technical said. “We travel with lighting and sound, and they will set up and do that themselves.”

When it comes to picking the school year’s production, Rector takes several things into focus — mainly, what will best fit his current group of students.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “It’s time consuming. I have to think about the students that I have and what would be best for them. What would be interesting for the students, the school and for me? You certainly want something that’s going to keep your interest long term.”

And he has a bit of advice for those wanting to try their hand at theater — advice that quite frankly stretches far beyond the stage.

“It never hurts to try,” he said. “Just get up there and go for it. You never know where it can lead. And if you’re not on stage right away, it doesn’t mean you failed. It just gives you an opportunity to learn something and try again. That’s one of the things that we focus on. It’s not always about success. Sometimes it’s about failure and learning from that failure. That’s just as important.”