As Dottie Fletcher looks around her home, she is surrounded by memories made with her students.
"There's Gage's dinosaur he drew," she notes, going down the list of the things on her walls from students. "Right now, it's kind of hard to give that all up, but I've already promised a few playdates."
Fletcher, known by many as Mrs. Dottie, is retiring after 45 years, but she began her teaching career by accident when her daughter started the local head start program.
"When my daughter started head start at Prater Borders, I worked as a volunteer until the teacher quit mid-year and I took over," Fletcher remembered.
She taught head start for seven years, then went on to work as an education coordinator for the Big Sandy Head Start Program, working with teachers throughout the Big Sandy area.
"In the meantime, I was working and taking classes," Fletcher told the Independent.
After receiving her masters, she started teaching first grade, first at Middle Fork Elementary, then on to Salyersville Grade School, where she taught for 26 years. She taught first grade every year except for the last year, when she taught reading for Kindergarten through fifth grade.
"In 2008 I retired and so many teachers started saying how we don't have a preschool here, so I started an in-home preschool in 2009 and it just kept going."
She said, in the beginning, she was afraid she would inadvertently push the 3, 4 and 5-year-olds too hard, having taught first grade for so long. To combat that, she went to all of the Kindergarten teachers in the county and asked them what they expected of the students, and she took their tips to develop a curriculum.
"If children are having fun, you can teach them about anything," Fletcher said. "At that age, they can pick up and retain so much. Some of these kids can read. We started by playing detective, asking my helpers if they knew the girl whose name started with a certain sound. Then progressively we started spelling their names, and now they can pick up on if you spell any of their names."
She said her goal has always been to help the children have self-esteem and confidence going into Kindergarten.
"I want them to go into Kindergarten feeling they can be successful," Fletcher said.
With her husband's health declining, she said it was time to retire from her preschool, Dottie's Little Darlings.
"I finally decided this is my last year, again," Fletcher said. "Mentally, I'm still ready to go at it, but physically I'm just too tired."
Her students' parents have told her that if she gets lonely, to just let them know and she can have company anytime.
"I've had a wonderful career and have lots of good memories," Fletcher said.
She started recounting the newsletters she always made for the parents, with important information for the month, but including quotes from the children.
"I would put ‘Which kid said that?' and put what they had said," she laughed.
At the end of the year, they would have a sleepover, where almost all the students would spend the night.
"I have always loved working with the parents and families," Fletcher said. "It's just one big family."
She attributed her success to having an open line of communication with the parents at all times.
"I would send a letter at the beginning of the year, just telling them that if something comes up, let me know right then so we can deal with it. Call me at home or come to see me, but I need to know if something is up, and they always backed me 100 percent. I always told them, ‘I realize you're the first teacher for your child, but I'm here for them,' and it always worked."
Having taught for 45 years, she said she often knew the parents from earlier in her career.
"This year I had five parents I had taught in first grade," Fletcher laughed.
After holding her last graduation this past weekend, Fletcher compared the feeling to empty nest syndrome.
"This year I had 23 children and it feels like having them all grow up and marry all at the same time."
She said she's had a lot of family and staff support, explaining she couldn't have made it without them.
Fletcher especially commended her husband, Jim.
"The kids love him," she said. "Every year at the end of the year I get these bare books and they get to make their own books. I had one this year make one about Jim, who's disabled, and it says things like ‘Jim sits in the chair with the remote,' and ‘Jim sleeps a lot.'"
One of the parents from this year still had the book she made in Fletcher's first-grade class.
"When I taught first grade, we would make a cookbook and the parents would send recipes," Fletcher remembered. "They'd send so many, just amazing recipes. We would go all over the school and give copies to the cooks and staff, the teachers, then go to the board office and give it to everyone down there. The children would do all of the illustrations, so their names would be on the front, so I'd make sure they would all take one home to their moms."
Following the school calendar, she was used to from working in the school system, Fletcher said she would have an Ol' Fashioned Day, where they would make gingerbread, churn butter, and milk a "cow" using a glove.
"All the kids would get all around the table and I would tell them we were going to double the recipe, so we got our math in that way. I let them crack the eggs. We would put a sheet down to catch the mess, so clean up was easy. They would all take turns measuring the molasses, the spices, and stirring it up, and then we'd bake it. On the last day, I always asked the grandparents to come in and talk about how it was when they were little, and the kids would serve them the gingerbread."
That's not the only baking done during the year, either.
"For their birthday, every child would get to pick the flavor and get to decorate their birthday cake. I just let them loose with the icing and the toppings and they always think it's the most beautiful cake in the whole world. Then they would get to share it with the class for a snack, so we always do birthdays up big."
For Christmas, they would perform a Christian-based play at the school.
"They do an awesome job and the family comes to watch," Fletcher said.
On the day-to-day, she said they worked on vocabulary and would read 15 to 20 books a day. She said they would talk about the books, going into the characters and setting without the kids ever knowing they were learning.
To help the children and the parents to know where they were at compared to Kindergarten, she said she always used the same screening tests (which go by age), so they would know what they needed to work on before going into school.
At the end of the year, they would have a preschool graduation ceremony, complete with caps and gowns. The students would get to showcase some of the skills they had learned in front of their parents and the crowd.
For the graduation ceremony held on Sunday, June 3, Fletcher said they had over 200 people attend.
"There were parents and grandparents, but there were also a lot of students from my former classes," Fletcher said.
Believe it or not, Fletcher did not always want to be a teacher.
"As a child, I always wanted to have an orphanage," Fletcher said. "We used to have one in Magoffin County and I went to school with some girls that lived there, and I always thought, ‘If I could take in all the children that needed you and it could just be a big, warm home.'"
As for her former students and their parents, Fletcher had one more message for them.
"I just want them to know their child's always been loved and has a special place in my heart," Fletcher said. "I will always pray for them and always be there for them."
Dottie Fletcher has a husband, Jim, and two children, Missy Daniels and Jimmy Fletcher, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The Salyersville Independent went to Facebook in search of words from some of Mrs. Dottie's former students and, honestly, received more than we have room to print. However, here are some of the responses we received:
Amber Bailey Prater
Mrs. Fletcher was awesome . I remember her showing us how to make homeMade ice cream , she would also reward us for learning all of our alphabet . She made school fun and exciting ! I had her in the early 90s .
In 1979 Mrs. Dottie was my kindergarten teacher at Prater-Borders Elementary. Because I was a timid, misanthropic child who really did not like other kids my age, beginning school was a challenge, but I remember that Mrs. Dottie made that transition easier with her motherly and patient qualities. One of my favorite memories was Mr. Peabody, a mustached puppet on a stick that Mrs. Dottie pulled out when it was time to recite the alphabet. She was the first in a long line of strong teachers who influenced my own decision to pursue a career in education. Currently, I reside in Bakersfield, CA where I have been teaching English at the high school level for over 20 years. Congratulations to Mrs. Dottie on her retirement!
Peyton Rae Cox
Mrs. Dottie was my first grade teacher at SGS in 1999. Now, I can appreciate the time she put into making learning exciting! I will never forget coming into class and realizing our chicks had hatched! I also remember making homemade ice cream, putting on classroom plays, and having my aunt, Katie Prater, come speak at grandparents day. Mrs. Dottie understands that children aren’t wired to sit in a chair and write all day. She incorporates fun into each learning objective. Her strategy to teaching, along with her loving heart for each student, makes her one of the best! I have now graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science and from Spalding University with a Masters in Occupational Therapy. As I begin my career as a pediatric occupational therapist, I hope I can have the same kind of impact that Mrs. Dottie has made on the lives of so many children. Happy Retirement, Mrs. Dottie!
Janice N Willie Cole
Mrs. Dottie was my resource teacher for my KTIP year in 2004. I was scared when they told me that she was going to be my resource teacher. I knew no one would ever be able to live up to the legend she was and still is. However, as time went on she became more than just a mentor she became my 2nd momma. We would walk together after school just to talk about what was going on in our classrooms, in life or just about anything that was on our mind that day. She truly was an inspiration to me. After that first year was under my belt she still was just a phone call away and still is today. We became family after that first year. I always loved my birthday dinner she would fix me or making candy together at her house for Christmas. This county sure has been blessed with this outstanding lady.
Madison Claire Ratliff
Mrs. Dottie was also my first grade teacher in 1999 and I still think of things she taught me. Mrs. Dottie put so much effort into her classroom and into making things enjoyable for her students — we had so many opportunities, even just as first graders, that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Mrs. Dottie let us incubate and hatch chickens in her room, taught us how to make homemade ice cream, and always made the 100th day of school something very special. I read and wrote a lot then (I still do), and Mrs. Dottie still asks my mother and I if I’m reading and writing as much as I used to. So impactful, inspiring, and caring. One of the best teachers I have ever had.
Mrs.Fletcher was my teacher at the old Salyersville Grade School. There were quite a few memories made there and my mother still has the cook book we put together. She didn't pick and choose between students we were all on the same playing field no matter she cared for and taught us all the same. She taught us to always strive to be our best. Because of her and many other favorite teachers who were compassionate and taught us to strive, never give up and believe in ourselves I now work for Apple. Congrats on your retirement and thanks for being an awesome teacher!
Lacey Lashae Howard
My first grade teacher and still one of my favorite women in this world! Debra Howard and I love you sooo much! You have been such an influence to so many lives! God sure blessed the education system with someone like you!
Melissia Butcher Daniels
She was my Head Start teacher in 1979 at Prater Borders in the little white building behind the school. My fondest memories are how she always made learning fun. I can still remember reciting “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”. I live in Ezel, KY and I am a Head Start teacher.
Beth Sizemore Howard
Mrs. Dottie Fletcher was both of my children’s first preschool teacher. 2012-2016, she loved, nurtured, educated, disciplined and befriended my kids. A lifetime bond was formed and my children are better humans because of it.
Her spirit of strength and endurance, her patience, kindness, innate love, and ability to comfort the crying babies and Mothers, are some of her greatest attributes.
Words could never suffice for my gratitude to this amazing lady.
Enjoy your retirement. Rest. Revel in your accomplishments. Always know you have a host of children and parents and a community indebted to you forever.
Dottie Fletcher, you are a Queen of education and a life changer. We love you.
Lorna Nichole Minix
Mrs. Dottie has been a favorite for so many generations of my family. Each one loves her so much. Mrs. Dottie has the sweetest personality and treats every child that she teaches like they are her own children. I am sad that my babies will not get to attend Dottie’s Darlings
Mrs. Dottie was my first grade teacher in 1997 at Salyersville Grade School. There are SO many memories that I remember from that particular year! One, however, that always stood out to me was the reading of the “Thunder Cake” book. When you’re young things such as thunderstorms can really be scary. Any time that it would storm, she would have us gather in a circle and she would read the book. I’ll never forget the anticipation of “counting” for the next clap of thunder. We were so engrossed and focused on the story that our fears of the storm quickly vanished! She not only taught us our curriculum, but she instilled in each of us great morals and values about life. It was teachers like her that inspired me to teach! I am now a 6th grade English/Language Arts teacher at our own Herald Whitaker Middle School. Dottie, you’ve had such a tremendous impact on this community! I love you, and I wish you happiness during your retirement!
Mrs. Dottie was my first grade teacher in 1999 at Salyersville Grade School. I had just moved to that school from Salyer Elementary and I remember being SO NERVOUS. She was one of my favorite teachers I ever had. We were Always doing fun activities, I will never forget our Thanksgiving play. My most notable memory was how well Mrs. Dottie took care of me after I broke my arm at school. We were at recess and I tripped over my shoe lace. I immediately ran to her and she gave me a big hug and carried me to the nurse. Now, I am a high school teacher of Biology and Chemistry. I graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Biomedical Sciences in 2016 and am returning to school in August to get my Masters in Education. Mrs. Dottie had a huge impact on my life and I know she continues to touch the lives of the people around her. She will be cherished by everyone who had her as a teacher. Thank you for everything you did for me and my nephew, Dottie Fletcher. We love you
She was my 1st grade teacher and Ill never forget about how every kid loved and wanted to be in her class so I was one of the lucky ones. Every day she would read to us and was very hands on. One of my favorite memories was our Christmas play. She was so proud of us. I am so blessed to have had her be a apart of a very important part of my life. Thank you Mrs. Fletcher!