Winning three state titles in a row is memorable.
But when Carole Bettenhausen did it with her children on the Speech and Drama squads she coached at Baker High School, it made it even more so.
A fixture at Baker for more than 40 years, she will be stepping down at the end of the semester, leaving the administration to fill some big shoes in the Advanced Placement English courses, as well as Spanish, publications and speech.
She coached the Speech and Debate and Drama program for 38 years and picked up not only memories but trophies along the way.
Bettenhausen remembers coaching more than a dozen students to individual state titles. “We have had a lot of success,” she recalled. “We were very fortunate to have a lot of hard working students who wanted to do well.”
Even in her final season leading the program, her team had eight individual state champions in addition to winning the state team title.
Although she stepped down as the coach several years ago, she remembers the three straight state championships the most fondly because of her childrens’ participation in the rare accomplishment. “My daughter was on the three back-to-back-to-back state championship teams, so those are the most memorable ones for me... getting to coach my own children and see them succeed,” she said.
“We have invitational meets throughout the year and then they go to divisionals and then they compete at the state level,” she said. The season for speech, drama and debate runs from October to January, she explained.
There have been some changes over the years since she started in the late 1970s.
“There is more dependence on technology perhaps,” she said, comparing her early years as a teacher to the present. But the curriculum hasn’t really changed that much.
“I think that in every class, no matter what you do, there is more use of technology to create, but it is not a change in curriculum.”
But the current COVID-19 pandemic and closure of the schools has brought the biggest changes, she said. “Now, we are having to do it online since this shutdown, but it hasn’t changed the basic curriculum. We are still focusing on communication and developing strong writing skills. Those have been and will always be part of any English curriculum.”
The pandemic has changed her classes a great deal this spring. “If you don’t have the face-to-face or one-on-one interactions, it is difficult to get the students together and the class together at the same time. So, it is more difficult. That human connection is missing right now.
“I think every teacher would agree that it makes it more challenging to connect with students,” Bettenhausen said. “This is all kind of a work in progress because initially I think we thought that we would just be off and out of school for a couple of weeks.
“No, it looks like it might be longer. Who knows for certain. It is a pretty changing situation in how we are handling it,” she said.
In addition, some students do not have access to the technology and some are taking care of brothers and sisters. “It is a challenging time,” she stressed.
Bettenhausen said that her AP English students are always facing challenges. “The AP English is a college-level class and students who take the AP classes in high school earn dual credit at the college level. The whole purpose of AP English is to develop and hone their writing skills, and interpret and understand literature.”
The school began offering AP English courses about 15 years ago, she explained. “Now, there is quite a variety of AP courses offered at the school.
“But the curriculum hasn’t changed. It is just offering students classes with dual credit at college,” Bettenhausen explained.
“We have online now because of the shutdown, but AP is not online normally. It is just a college level class and the students who take that do get college credit if they do well. Every college has different requirements that the students have to meet.”
Normally, she has had about 15 students in her AP English courses, taking one as a junior and the other as a senior, the teacher explained. The courses are offered on alternate years, so one could start with literature first and follow it with the language the next year. “They get the chance to take both,” she said.
Bettenhausen is also in charge of the publications program at the school, working on the yearbook and having students submit articles to the local newspaper.
“Writing is pretty much writing,” she added, noting that the students started submitting work to the Fallon County Times about two years ago. “They enjoy it. They get to write about what they participate in and what they know.”
Bettenhausen grew up in Fromberg and graduated from Eastern Montana College (now Montana State University at Billings) with a degree in English and minors in accounting and Spanish.
Her first job was in Baker, as a business teacher, but eventually she was switched to the English and Spanish classes.