Chris Billingsley, the social studies teacher chosen to speak at the 2012 Decatur High commencement, wants to make sure people know a couple of things about him.
First of all, he wants to explain the comments attributed to him on the Facebook fan page that a student created to collect his sayings.
Stuff such as, “When I see a student’s head motionless on the desk for 15 minutes, I know that they are in DEEP PRAYER.”
And, “GOOD NEWS EVERYONE!!! You were not my worst class today! That was FIRST PERIOD!”
And, “Don’t get on my bad side! ‘Cause deep down I’m just a MEAN OLD WHITE MAN who should have retired 5 years ago.”
Said Billingsley, who really is retiring now: “I did say those things but I only did it to get the attention of the kids. The best way to regain their attention is to get them to laugh.”
Billingsley, 59, learned some tricks during his 35 years at Decatur High. That’s one reason the senior class invited him to give the commencement speech Friday night.
“I’ve been told seven minutes is a great time for a commencement speech,” Billingsley said. “I will talk about things I’ve found important in my career.”
The Decatur native graduated from Georgia State in 1976 and strolled into Decatur High to teach science — a subject he knew nothing about.
“That first year was hard,” he said. “I had long hair, I wore blue jeans to work, I just didn’t fit in. …I was a lousy teacher my first year and I should have been fired.”
He cut his hair, started wearing a suit and stuck around for more than three decades. He coached track and basketball, switched to government and social studies and devoted his professional life to teenagers.
Said Decatur High Principal Lauri McKain: “He is a true Decatur treasure and he will be missed. He has the old-fashioned heart of an educator in that he believes that along with teaching the mandated curriculum, he is charged with fostering a passion for one’s community and country. He has done this well in Decatur for his entire career.”
Billingsley presided over a classroom with one wall covered by historic front pages from newspapers — pages that students have claimed with yellow sticky notes.
He sees teaching as a practical enterprise that requires students to do more than shoot the breeze in class. “I’m not a lofty kind of teacher,” he said.
He adopted an “expeditionary learning” philosophy which included lots of field trips. He’s taken students to the Carter Center for 25 years and led an annual field trip to Washington, D.C.
Which leads to the other thing he wants to explain. Billingsley says he doesn’t cram conservative politics down students’ throats, despite what some people think. That complaint flared up on the last trip to Washington when the students visited the conservative Heritage Foundation offices.
He does want kids to be politically involved and to that end, he says, has even provided transportation for students to attend pro-Obama rallies. But in the classroom, “I don’t get up here and promote one cause over another.”
Billingsley said he’s retiring because he’s not “clicking” with as many students as he should.
“Thirty-five years is a long time in the classroom,” he said. “This has been a hard year for me.”
He’s not sure what will happen next. He may look in the private sector for a new job. He know he won’t be sitting in a rocking chair because “I like to work.”
Back to the Facebook page. Now students are filling it with tributes, such as these unedited comments: “Mr.B you can not be topped!!”
And, “MR.B You are truly a great teacher, coach and friend who help made my years at DHS very happy and AWESOME!!! MR.B you are without a shadow of a doubt that you are the GREATEST OF ALL TIMES Of any teacher that ever set foot on the campus of DHS!!! And on that note i say THANK YOU MR.B!!! AMEN!!”
And, “Mr. B! Way to go! You are a great teacher enjoy your retirement..you deserve it!”