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Hawthorne School teacher Jamie Chapman loves to keep tabs on the hundreds of students she has taught over her 38-year career, students she proudly calls “my children.”

Erica Schnee is now a principal, Rachel Hergett is a writer, and Jay Colombo is a teacher — now teaching Chapman’s own granddaughter.

“It’s so awesome to see their successes,” Chapman said.

And when her granddaughter was in Bozeman’s hospital for a tonsils operation, anesthesiologist Dr. Cheri Conner recognized her old teacher, Mrs. Chapman.

“She said, ‘You were my favorite teacher!’” recalled daughter Bradi Chapman, who followed her mom’s footsteps into teaching.

As much as Jamie Chapman has loved teaching children, as much as she has loved her 30 years at Hawthorne School, she has decided at 62 to retire at the end of this school year, June 11.

“Teaching is my life,” she said, but “I think it’s time.”

One of the most senior teachers in the Bozeman School District, Chapman has done her best to keep up with technology. She admires how her daughter, “a technical wizard,” can enhance learning for fourth-graders at Emily Dickinson School.

But even though her class uses computers and iPads, Jamie Chapman said she feels she wasn’t doing her children justice. She’d have to go back to school to learn more about technology, and “that’s not my magic.”

“I like hands-on — children having meal worms in their hands,” she said. “I have thousands of books in my classroom. I want them to pick up books and turn the pages. When my children leave, it’s not with a love of computers. They leave with a love of books.”

She recalled one little boy who wasn’t reading well, until she figured out that since he liked cowboys, he might enjoy Louis L’Amour novels.

“He just lit up,” she said. “By the end of the year he was one of my top readers.

“I love, love, love to get them get excited about learning. I love to see them light up,” she said. “We had one word in my classroom — Wonder. What do you wonder?”

She wants kids to wonder and then take the next steps to find answers.

Technology has brought the biggest changes she’s seen in teaching over nearly four decades. She recalls when the only people with smart phones were fictional spies like James Bond and Maxwell Smart.

“Now I’m virtually teaching!” she said. She finds it a struggle because “I don’t get to see my children.”

She misses them terribly. This week she visited her Hawthorne School classroom, filled with books and plants but empty of second-graders. On the board it still says March 13, the day before spring break. Bozeman schools never reopened after the governor closed all schools to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“To see that on the board and think that was my last day ever….” she said. “I just sat and cried.”

Chapman grew up in Great Falls, where her dad was a baker and her mom raised four children and later worked as a school lunch lady.

She went to Montana State University and became the first in her family to earn a college degree. She decided to switch majors to teaching after a summer job at a day care, where she was delighted to work with children.

Chapman taught for her first two years in Casper, Wyoming, and loved it. With experience she hoped to improve her chances of landing a teaching job in Bozeman. After working one year as a substitute here, she landed a job at the Willson Middle School, teaching fifth and sixth grades for five years.

In 1990 she took a year off to earn a master’s degree at MSU. She’d tuck 4-year-old Bradi into bed and then study until 2 a.m. She earned straight A’s.

“One of my greatest pride and joys was to be an awesome mom and get my master’s degree,” she said.

Bradi, 33, said she grew up at Hawthorne, going into the classroom with her mom, who worked late and on weekends. “She always makes kids feel loved and safe,” Bradi said. “She’d always tell me kids can’t learn if they don’t feel loved and safe and valued.”

Chapman is the last of the Hawthorne teachers who developed its arts program more than 20 years ago, and is pleased the several new teachers share the philosophy that children need the arts. In retirement, she’s excited to have time to do artwork of her own. And she plans to return to Hawthorne to help with drama productions.

She’s pleased to have four generations of Chapman women living in Bozeman, from her 89-year-old mother to 12-year-old granddaughter Jada. And she feels happy to taught here for more than 30 years. “I’m always so proud to say, ‘I teach in Bozeman.’”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.

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