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October 23, 2002 1 min read
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All in the Family

Parents hand down many blessings to their children— athletic ability, say, or an aptitude for music. The women of the Self family in Cottonwood, Ariz., are no exception: Every daughter born over the past four generations has inherited the call to teach.

“All of the six females in the family are teachers,” said S. Diane Self Thompson, who instructs 4th graders in the public schools. “That’s our calling.”

The tradition began with Thompson’s great-grandmother, who taught in a one-room “dug out” in the Oklahoma territory. That pioneer’s daughter, granddaughter, and three great-granddaughters followed in her footsteps.

“It has been so rewarding to me and the others because it is something that has an effect,” said 82-year-old Eva Self, an educator for 32 years and Ms. Thompson’s grandmother.

The Self women figure they’ve taught just about every grade and joke they’ve educated half the population of Cottonwood, a rural farming community located between Tucson and Phoenix with a population of about 8,000. They’re constantly being stopped at the post office and at the bank by former students or students of one another.

“My students’ parents were in my grandmother’s class and now their kids are in my room,” Ms. Thompson said. Her own husband was, in fact, included on Eva Self’s roster.

The connections don’t end there. Ms. Thompson’s sister, Crystal Self, is teaching 2nd grade in her grandmother’s old classroom.

Holidays and clan outings are often dominated with talk about school, said Hollie Self, Eva Self’s granddaughter who began teaching 7th and 8th grade just this year. Being a member of the family is much like taking part in a mini support group.

“I am really grateful that I have my family,” she said. “I can always vent to them because they know what I’m going through.”

Hollie Self even has an in-house expert in Eva Self, with whom she lives.

“My grandmother raised me, and I always wanted to be a 2nd grade teacher because that’s what she did,” she said.

Ms. Thompson and Crystal Self have three daughters between them who are not yet grown up. Will they, too, enter the family profession?

“We already know,” Ms. Thompson said, “they will teach.”

—Julie Blair

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