‘Mr. Callaway’, Justin Williams emphasizes what it means to be a teacher

Published 8:00 am Saturday, November 13, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LaGrange Daily News is writing a profile on all 25 teachers of the year in the Troup County School System.  This is the second installment in the series.
Justin Williams started his career with the Troup County School System as a paraprofessional at Callaway High School. This was not the start he had envisioned for his career after graduating Miles College with a history degree, but he knew that it was a start to get him to where he wanted to go.
“I don’t want to just work at any job. I want to teach. I want to help people,” Williams said. “So I kept going, I’m from a family of teachers of educators. They supported me through it all.”
In January of 2018, this dream came to fruition as he landed a position as a history teacher for ninth and eleventh grade at CHS. Williams said he wanted to teach history because of the stories and helping make it relatable to his students.
“I love the stories [and these] are the stories that we’ve heard are all our lives. The fun part is, it is a different student in each of these desks, so you [have] to try to make it relatable and relevant to them every day,” Williams said. “How do I take something that I’ve seen in the last five years and make it relate to something that happened two hundred or three hundred years ago?”
Williams will regularly encourage his students to see things from both sides of the event or issue.
“There’s always two sides. As historians, we’ve got to be able to look at both sides, and see where each side is coming from and understand how when those sides collide, this is a story that’s made,” Williams said.
Williams recalls several times that this approach has led to conversation and debate in the classroom. Most recently, the pandemic and agriculture have been points of contention within the class.
“We talked about the economy of the South and how slavery was big and up north [it was] industry. I’ve got some kids that they work on farms and their agriculture, that’s all they know, and they make good money on it,” Williams said. “Some of those kids felt like this kid is promoting slavery and I was like, no… Think about what agriculture did. They made a lot of money off of that stuff. That’s good. It’s okay.”
Williams said he makes a point to promote a conversation and to contextualize issues for his students.
“Anytime we have a disagreement like that, we need to talk about it together… I don’t like telling them what to say or how to say it. Say how you feel and lets … contextualize it into this history class,” Williams said.
These types of conversations with the students and the relationships formed are what motivated Williams to become a teacher.
“I’m trying to form a relationship with every single kid. I think every single kid is important. I think we have to be about it and not just talk about it,” Williams said.
Dalila Soto, a former student of Williams, complimented his abilities as her history teacher.
“He’s a great teacher. Hands down the best teacher ever here at the school. He has some really good jokes and because of the activities that he does it just makes the whole class super fun,” Soto said.
Soto said that she has personally witnessed the care and investment from Williams in his classroom.
“He’ll go up individually to each student and ask them how they’re doing, if they need help with anything or like when their birthday is so that sometimes he could get them a present or just tell them happy birthday,” Soto said.
Carlos Billingslea, a football player and former student, said he would often receive encouragement from Williams during his games.
“Sometimes he’ll tell me like going to the game… stay focused. Don’t get out of character. Execute my plays. Do what I know how to do, stuff like that — motivation,” Billingslea said. “He’s got good energy like he will hype you up. I’m telling you, when you’re down, he will pick you up.”
This attention and investment in students does not go unnoticed by other faculty. CHS Principal Jason Graham said he has personally seen the investment Williams puts into the kids.
“Mr. Williams is kind of like Mr. Callaway. He loves our school. He loves our kids. He loves supporting them. If there’s an event, he’s there,” Graham said. “The kids recognize that. That’s how you communicate that you really care about the kids … It’s about more than the classroom.”
Williams said he makes a point to try and get out to as many of his student’s events as possible and to be there for them in that way.
“I go to everything. I drove three hours to a band concert my first year. This past spring, I drove almost four hours down to a baseball playoff game,” Williams said. “Anytime I have time, I’m going to see some kids do something.”
It is this investment in the students that has sparked a new goal for Williams as he one day hopes to be an athletic director.
“That’s what I think I want to do. Kids love extracurricular activities and if I can make those extracurricular activities pop for them, make them feel like they’re really a part of it,” Williams said. “Make it feel like it’s love across the board. No one team is getting all the shine. Then, maybe we can make a change in these classrooms.”
Graham said that he feels that he sees a lot of the same qualities in Williams that he does in himself. He hopes to watch and possibly mentor Williams as he takes on more leadership within the CHS faculty.
“I see qualities in him that I kind of saw in myself and I can see him being in a position to where he could pursue leadership if he wanted to. Because he could make an impact beyond just his classroom,” Graham said.
Williams established that he wants his career to continue to stay focused on the students and that if he makes it to athletic director in the future, they will still be at the forefront of his motivation.
“I would definitely look at that particular leadership role as one (that) I’m still in their lives. I’m in a part of their life that they really get excited about,” Williams said. “Nobody’s going to go to sleep on a football field, nobody’s skipping a baseball game. They’re there, (and) they’re about it. They’re excited about it. So I’m looking forward to it.”