It is also curious that Miss Hockaday herself must have successfully blended the aggressiveness and graciousness in her career, but when she retired, she chose a man, Hobart Mossman, to succeed her. Indeed, for all of its talk about limitless opportunities for women, Hockaday has not had a headmistress since Miss Hockaday. For that matter, with the exceptions of the foreign language and physical education departments, which have no male teachers, all of the Upper School departments are headed by men.
I also asked Glenn Ballard, Hockaday’s personable headmaster, about possible conflicts in trying to produce professionally successful young women in a southern girls’ school. Headmasters of private schools are inevitably able public relations men, and any reporter has a tendency to discount their statements as boosterism. Nevertheless, Ballard says the broadening of Hockaday’s constituency has helped provide profession-bound girls with models to emulate. "The mothers of Hockaday students now run the gamut from those who wear white gloves and go to tea parties or luncheons every day to moms who have retained their maiden names and have careers of their own. The mothers, on the whole, have a better grasp of what it is we’re trying to do, and they are for the most part supportive. The fathers tend to relish their daughters’ growing independence, but experience more ambivalent feelings. Occasionally a father admits that he wishes she’d just imitate her mother." Both Cobb and Ballard insist that they find working in a girls’ school so satisfying that they never long for a night out with the boys.
The faculty, like any contemporary school faculty, can be broken down into three or four types. There are the teachers who basically like kids and who never count the hours they spend counseling with them after school. There are the serious scholars who enjoy the students who share their passion for a particular subject. And perhaps at schools like Hockaday there are some who stick around primarily because they enjoy the prestige of association with prominent parents. How about a parent conference with Harding Lawrence and Mary Wells’? As at any school, there are the older faculty members who tend to believe that they are the only ones doing any real teaching. They lament the fact that their classes seem to be something to occupy students’ time between extracurricular activities.
Some recall sweeter days when the cultural vibrations went from Dallas homes to the school. One teacher remembers days when parents had poets or musicians visiting in their homes and would agree to share their friends with the school. "Now,’" he says, "it seems to be the other way around. The intellectual climate in Hockaday homes is not what it used to be." This spring, a Broadway musical performance seemed to be causing a bit of rancor among teachers and parents. One parent complained, "I was glad my daughter was chosen to be in Mame, but after the time she spent on rehearsals, I began to wonder, ’Did I send her to Hockaday to learn to be a Las Vegas showgirl?’"
Some of the younger faculty members seem to be imbued with a frontier spirit. Teaching in a girls’ school is no longer a second-class job. Hockaday is sending girls to Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Rice, and M.I.T. The curriculum is demanding, and the faculty seems increasingly distinguished academically. Nobody teaches at Hockaday for the money. Salaries range from $9,000 for a beginning teacher to $21,000 for a department head, plus grants for summer graduate work. Nevertheless, teaching at Hockaday is a luxury, especially if you’ve ever taught in a public school. The girls are rather easily motivated, and the small class sizes make the teacher-pupil relationship potentially very rewarding. "Where else," says dean of faculty Dr. Tezzie Cox, "could we read 10 Shakespeare plays in one year and write papers on each of them?" Private school teaching can provide all of the stimulation of teaching at the college level without any of the headaches of "publish or perish."
But there are also awesome responsibilities and pressures in teaching at Hockaday. There is the ego involvement of successful, upwardly mobile parents who want to believe that Hockaday can work miracles. "They pay for it," says a faculty member, "so by golly, you figure out a way to get their baby through. If she can’t handle the curriculum you’ve set up, then you change it." Parents are also concerned about Hockaday’s maintaining traditional standards in the face of grade inflation everywhere else. "’I sent my daughter to Hockaday because it is a college preparatory school," says one parent, "and the irony of it is that the C she’s making in a Hockaday English class, where no grade higher than C is being given, will probably knock her chances for the college of her choice."
There are things about Hockaday you can't understand if you are still, despite being warned, washing your grandmother's hollow handle silver knives in the dishwasher.
What is it like to be a student at Hockaday? Some girls will spend 14 school years there. Hockaday recently added a preschool for 4-year-olds, and since many people seem to believe that once you’re in, you’re in for good, there is considerable competition even at that early age. Miss Hockaday used to interview each prospective student personally. Now an admissions office handles the interviews. "When I interviewed at Hockaday for the seventh grade, I remember being asked what college I planned to attend. I think I said Smith because that’s where my mother went," one graduate recalls. The pressure is on.
Most of these girls are the daughters of achievers, and they know that their parents have high expectations. As one lower-school teacher put it, "I sometimes worry that these little girls never get to do something just for the fun of it. Their lives are so programmed. They take piano lessons, gymnastics, go to choir practice, get tutored in math or reading, or go to ballet. By the ninth grade or even earlier, they are worrying about college acceptance. They are told that good grades alone will not assure them of admission to a prestige college. So now they must spend their summers 'productively,' teaching deaf kids, going to Andover summer school, or learning photography — anything that will make them an 'attractive package' when their application crosses the college admissions desk. It seems as if they are always living their lives in preparation for the next hurdle. Some are even taught to be socially calculating at a very early age. I worry that they never get the chance to just be — to just lie in the sun and let the wind tickle their toes. It may sound like heresy, but I think a little benign neglect might be healthy for some of them."
What do Hockaday girls look like? They’re mostly green and white, and beyond seventh grade have waist-length blonde hair, gold ear studs and saddle oxfords and wear their green sweaters tied around their waists. When I asked several of them what misconceptions they thought most people had about Hockaday, they responded, "Tell them that we’re not all just a bunch of rich girls." "And we’re not a bunch of lesbians, either," giggled another. The green and white uniforms do go a long way toward concealing any economic differences in the student body, but as one recent graduate told me, "Aw, everybody knows who’s got money and who doesn’t. Look at the parking lot. You know who drives the Mark IV with ’Molly-16’ on the license plate." And there are subtle ways of distinguishing yourself even in a uniform — Gucci keyrings and Rolex watches. One alum remarked, "I wouldn’t mind being black or brown or green at Hockaday; I’d just hate to be poor."
After being at Hockaday for a few days, I think I'd mainly hate to be stupid. I talked with the mother of a Mexican-American student who is certainly, by Hockaday standards, "less well-off." She did not feel that her daughter had suffered any discrimination at Hockaday. "She knows who she is. She doesn’t try to compete socially, and quite frankly she finds the activities of some of her very affluent classmates rather entertaining. Although there is certainly competition at Hockaday for grades and in athletics, there also seems to be some very healthy pride in each others’ achievement. My daughter won an award and found her locker decorated with ribbons and notes of congratulations. She really appreciates that esprit de corps." In all fairness, it should be noted that this particular student is also one of the brightest kids at Hockaday. Her mother did go on to say that she was also pleased to hear Peter Cobb talking to parents about the girls’ need to develop life skills. ("They can program a computer, but can they put the chain back on their bikes?" he once asked.) "I wanted to tell the parents that their kids could develop a lot of life skills if they would just unplug their maids," this working mother said. "Like a lot of Hockaday parents, I complain about the amount of homework, but I’m complaining for a different reason. I need her to help with the housework at night.’’