Samantha Cotton, Teacher of the Year nominee, ignites musical passions in her students

Published 2:00 pm Saturday, December 18, 2021

Editor’s Note: This is the latest story in an ongoing series on teachers of the year in the Troup County School System.

Samantha Cotton, a chorus teacher at Callaway Middle School, always knew she loved music. She grew up in the Troup County School System and now uses her passion to inspire the children of CMS to pursue music and choir.

Cotton said her passion for music came from her family and growing up surrounded by artists.

“They are all wonderful, talented musicians. It’s just kind of bled through the family tree,” she said.

When Cotton arrived at CMS, she said the school did not have a strong fine arts program. She aimed to fix that after being hired.

“They had a good sports program and academics were fine, but when it came to fine arts, they didn’t really have a chorus program. It also kind of filtered into the high school,” Cotton said.

“When I got there, I was like ‘I need to start something.’”

Cotton said she used her determination to bring a show choir to the students at CMS.

“I’m very determined. I’m very stubborn. And these kids are very stubborn, but the determined part kind of grew as they got to know me,” she said. “My first year, I was like ‘I want to have a show choir.’ It’s not often you hear middle schools starting out with a show choir.”

Makinley Hester, an eighth grader in Cotton’s class, said Cotton pushed her to do better and taught her about chorus and life.

“She pushes a lot of us to be the best student that we can be and teaches us a lot of life lessons,” Hester said. “[They’re] not always something in chorus or dancing or singing. She teaches us life lessons about how to be a good person and just how to live in the real world.”

Brianna Pattillo, another one of her eighth grade students, said Cotton wants to help people.

“Ms. Cotton is the best teacher that I’ve ever had. She likes to help people. She pushes people to their limits and if you want to give up she makes sure that you that you don’t and you keep pushing,” Pattillo said.

Cotton said Marty Davis, the former choir teacher at LaGrange High, inspired her to pursue music.

“After I graduated, I started taking voice lessons with her. She basically got me into college. She was the one that helped me with all my pieces that I had to learn and everything,” Cotton said.

“I would go sometimes, and just chit-chat with her. Especially when I started teaching, she was my mentor.”

Cotton said she knew she made the right choice with teaching on the first night of her student’s performance.

“Going through that struggle to get to that first night of performance and then everything falling into place. That was my like, ‘I want to do this moment,’” Cotton said.

“Just having that moment is probably what keeps me teaching and brought me to teaching.”

Bre’Elle Wilson, a sixth grader at CMS, said Cotton helps her make sure she is doing her best in chorus.

“She’s realistic with me, which helps a lot because sometimes I get a lot of things wrong and it helps me do what’s right,” Wilson said.

Star McKeithan said she and her classmates were happy and emotional after their fall concert.

“This is my first year doing chorus. She pushes us until we get everything right and makes sure that we’re good.” McKeithan said.

“Whenever we did our fall concert, we were all just so happy, and it was so much fun… We did a bunch of songs and it was very emotional.”

Cotton said she wants to make sure all of her students know that she is there for them whenever they need her.

“I want them to know that they always have someone in their corner …  I tell them this all the time. I know I sound like a broken record saying this,” Cotton said.

Ryleigh Seymour, a sixth grader, said Cotton’s class helped her in the transition

“Whenever I get to Ms. Cotton’s class, it just makes me so much happier because she always is trying to make us so much happier,” Seymour said. “She really helped me enjoy middle school more than I would have without [her] here.”

As for Cotton’s future plans in the school system, she will be moving to Callaway High School in January. She will be working with many of her past students and said her principal is supportive of her decision.

“She was very supportive. She was the best and it broke my heart even more,” Cotton said.

“I felt so bad, but she was like, ‘No, this is a big step for you and you get to do more things with them.’”

Samantha Cotton provided hot chocolate and a movie for her students on their last day of the fall semester. She also participated in the school wide pajama day. (Photo/Iris Hersey)