Thanks to he who gave me something to believe in
I doubt that he would have remembered me a week after my semester in his class was over. I should have, but never got around to thanking him. But he changed my life forever.
Dr. Richard Barrett was an English teacher at the University of Tennessee, and I had enrolled in his English Literature class to complete the requirements of my curriculum after two years of college.
Truth be known, I really wasn’t that interested in the class, I just knew that I needed it to graduate.
Let me go back a bit. I started college majoring in Wildlife Management. I thought that I could find a way to hunt and fish for a living. Along the way, knee surgery and an encounter with a physical therapist (you may have heard this story before) prompted a change in majors to Physics/Physical Education with the intention of going on to physical therapy school.
The only problem was that I had spent two years “enjoying” college, not really applying myself. My grade point average was somewhere well south of average and physical therapy was really hard to get into.
OK, so go back one more step. My only academic distinction in high school was that I was the football player with the best grades. I even got a trophy to affirm it (The Paul & Naomi Arp Academic Award). My high school guidance counselor wanted me to go to trade school.
Well, let’s just say that I was not any high school English teacher’s favorite student. I thought (and still do to the chagrin of current English teachers) that diagramming sentences was a complete waste of time and that’s what I remember most from high school English. Some of those teachers would turn over in their grave if they knew that each and every week a thousand word essay of mine is printed here.
So I show up in Dr. Barrett’s class with a shallow academic history, no real study habits, and a career of underachievement in the classroom. I don’t remember the assignment but I do remember the fear when he asked me to stay after class one day. He had looked up my transcript and wanted answers to why my work and my grades were so far below my abilities. He told me I was a huge academic underachiever. In a nutshell, he challenged me to do better work.
At that point, no one had ever expressed any confidence in my academic ability.
Nobody had ever really believed in me in the classroom.
Oh, my mom always told me how smart I was but she also told me to always tell the girls at school that I was the most handsome boy in the school and, well, I knew that wasn’t the truth.
And then there was my junior high principal, Mr. Rothwell who had high hopes for me but I’m pretty sure it was because he was a family friend. But this was different. Somebody, a college professor no less, had seen something in me that I hadn’t even seen in myself. It was a moment — an epiphany — that changed me forever.
I’m pretty sure that I ended up with a B in his class, but that may have been my last B in college. I turned it around academically and, as they say, the rest is history.
Sometimes all it takes is somebody that believes in you.
Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Write to him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)