Being one of the few teachers at Collegiate School to teach for more than 40 years, kindergarten teacher Betty Hotchkiss watched many students grow up, cross the bridge, and eventually receive their diplomas. In her 42 years of teaching, she says, “I have never regretted being a teacher.” Before her retirement in 2011, she was known to stay at school until eleven at night or later working on lesson plans. She recalls some nights getting only two or three hours of sleep, but functioning on little sleep is no problem for her. Lauren Brown, a Collegiate third grade teacher, remembers, “speaking to Mrs. Hotchkiss one day [and] she told me, ‘There has not been one day that I have taught at Collegiate that I didn’t want to come.’”
Mrs. Hotchkiss knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher. She recalls, “I just decided that I think that I would like to be a teacher because I like children so much and taking care of children.” Her first teaching experience was as a student teacher at a Newport News public school while attending Longwood University. She was supposed to teach at a school near Longwood; however, public schools in the area were closed to all students due to Massive Resistance. So, she returned home to Newport News. She was the fourth teacher’s aide to help in a third grade class comprised of students from an area of subsidized housing and low incomes. Many of these students’ parents worked multiple jobs, so the students had great responsibilities at home. The mother of one of the girls in her class was a waitress, so when the girl got off the bus, she took care of her two younger siblings. She was responsible for feeding and getting her siblings to sleep because her mother often did not get home until midnight or later. Mrs. Hotchkiss quickly realized that since their parents were often working, “all these students wanted was someone to care about them.” She always made sure to make the students feel as though they were important and often brought treats such as cupcakes and cookies as prizes for good work. To this day, she thinks about these students and wonders how they are doing.
After getting married, Mrs. Hotchkiss moved to Richmond and got a job teaching at Collegiate. Her neighbor who taught at Collegiate was in need of a substitute while she was off on maternity leave. Knowing Mrs. Hotchkiss loved teaching, she told her to stop by school for an interview. And from 1969 on, she taught kindergarten at Collegiate. Her fondest memories come from school traditions like Halloween. She loved to see all the costumes and the smiles on her students’ faces during the Lower School parade; to this day, she still has some of her old costumes in the attic of her house. However, her favorite tradition is Pageant; she says, “there is nothing like Pageant.” When her daughter Bland Hotchkiss (’80) was a senior, she was the herald angel. Every time Mrs. Hotchkiss sees the Pageant, she remembers her daughter’s high school years and gets excited for Christmas, one of her favorite holidays. She particularly loves Christmas trees and keeps hers out until at least Valentine’s Day. When her children were young, she would leave various small gifts–old or new–under the tree every once in a while between Christmas and Valentine’s Day to brighten their days.
Since her retirement, Mrs. Hotchkiss has kept busy. Before its closing in fall of 2015, she helped at William Byrd Community House, a school for young students from low income families. She also enjoys working in her garden and bird watching. Most importantly, she enjoys spending time with her family. She, her husband, their two children and grandchildren are a tight knit family who spend time together to celebrate holidays and take trips. She says that she is, “happy with [herself] and [she] thinks that is the most important thing in life.”
She would like to tell her students that, “the thing I want [you] to be is happy.” She advises them to, “go through and think about on each [life path] how it is going to [make you feel] and go by that to decide what it is that you really want to do” and “to think about what makes you happy.” She believes that “people don’t make you happy; you make yourself happy by surrounding yourself with the right people.” For students, she wants to say that “it is not [about] the popularity, it is [about] what makes you happy” and to “be true to yourself.”
One thing that I always remember about her class was how each morning some of her former students would stop by and talk with her because they loved their year of kindergarten with her. –Caroline Ritter (‘17)
I cannot remember a day that I was not excited to go to her class. – Taylor Thackston (‘17)
A couple of years ago I saw her, and she was so enthused to talk to me. She still had just as much concern for me as she had a decade earlier when I was in kindergarten. -Matty Pahren (‘17)
She’s so positive and encouraging and really inspired me to be like her in that regard. – Sonja Kapadia (‘17)
She remembers that when I was in kindergarten, I would always write stories about how badly I wanted a dog and whenever she sees me, she makes sure to ask me about my dog Charlie. – Ellie Casalino (‘17)
I remember how we had a toy drive and I forgot to bring a toy, so she gave me one so I didn’t feel left out. – Stephen Laming (‘19)
Feature image courtesy of The Torch.