The metals shop at Bozeman High School is a noisy place, full of clanging metal, hissing welding torches and all sorts of roaring and grinding machinery.
Teacher Doug Batson is going to miss the place.
“I kind of hate to leave – I like to play with all these things,” he said Monday.
At 65, Batson is ready to retire after 37 years of teaching trades and industry classes at Bozeman High. Of all the 28 teachers and other school employees retiring this year, Batson has served the longest with the Bozeman schools.
Batson is easy to spot, the only teacher with a long mustache waxed up at the ends. He used to have a beard, too, until his students won first place in a state skills competition in Havre and he had to shave it on a bet. He has a distinctive sense of humor.
“Before I couldn’t spell teacher – now I are one,” he joked.
“To teach, you’ve gotta have a sense of humor. Gotta be fair, gotta be reasonable.”
Batson didn’t plan to become a teacher when he graduated from Bozeman High in 1965. He might have gone into the military, until he found out he’d been accepted to then-Montana State College, or “Cow Pie Tech” as he called it. His dad, “a refrigeration man,” was so proud.
After graduating with a degree in teaching, he owned a welding business for several years. Then one day, he said, “I had a friend grab me by the collar and say, ‘You’d make a good teacher, c’mon. You’re not gonna make much money, but you’ll enjoy it.’ He was right.”
The big thing he has tried to teach his students is a good attitude. Students knew nearly half their grade was based on showing a strong work ethic.
“They go out – they want to work,” Batson said. “They know to be on time.”
Over the years he has taught everything from leatherwork to photography to auto mechanics. He met regularly with industry people to find out what skills his students need. If his graduates can go to Belgrade and get a job with Smith TowHaul, which manufactures giant trailers for the oil industry worldwide, then “I’m doing my job.”
Batson is glad he chose a career in teaching.
“Yes, for the influence I had on the future generation,” he said. “Yeah, we did make a dent.”
When he arrived, the metals shop had just eight arc welders and eight gas welders. Today it has about 24 wire feeds, 24 arc welders and 24 TIG (tungsten inert gas) welders, and a computer-run PlasmaCAM that can take a sketch and cut out steel silhouettes of cowboys and antelope.
Batson figures he’s leaving the place better than he found it.
“When you teach, it’s not an 8 to 4 job,” he said. He’d often come in on weekends to repair equipment.
He’s looking forward to retirement and catching up on things he hasn’t had as much time for – hunting and fishing, sleeping in, running around with his family. He and his wife, Kathy, have three children and three grandchildren. And he’ll probably come in to the metal shop to help out a bit.
One thing he won’t leave behind is a metal sculpture of a hawk, made by his students, who cut out every feather from steel he’d purchased and signed their names to it.
“I’m taking it. It really hits you here,” Batson said, patting his heart, “when you have something the kids have done.”
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.