Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Computer Instructor and the Former Football Player

 

In the late 1990s I was an adjunct instructor at a community college in East Texas. I taught Introductory Computer and Microsoft Office.

A community college is different than a four-year or upper-level school. It is a combination trade school and high school for super seniors (think grades 13 and 14). Students are a mix of high school graduates continuing (or not continuing) their education while living at home, adults trying to restart their education, and workers adding a skill.

Back then about one-third of my class was made up of teens signed up only so they could be carried on their parent’s health insurance as “full-time students.” Tuition was cheaper than buying their own insurance. I was good with that. They would disappear after the first three classes and allowing me to concentrate on those who wanted to learn. In Texas you cannot flunk out of a community college. No matter how many times you fail courses, they have to let you back in the next semester.

Many students, especially the older students, really did want to learn. Having received a degree in the school of hard knocks, they valued what they were learning. I had gained a reputation among the administration, councilors, and students as an instructor to go to if you wanted to learn, but had difficulty with the subject.

Every semester I got a number of older students who were – not problem children, since they did not cause problems. Rather challenges, who needed extra work to master the material. I saw it as my job to see that everyone who wanted to learn about Introductory Computers or Office – and were willing to put in the work – left my class knowing the material. I almost always succeeded, if they did the work required.

One semester my students included a black man in his early 30s. He was a big man, someone I would have pegged as a one-time high school athlete. Muscles, but sort of gone to fat, and with a bad knee. He was a quiet man. He asked few questions in class, but those he asked were to the point and incisive. He never took notes, but was always listening intently.

He was the most industrious student I had that year. He was always in the computer lab when I got there, an hour before class, and would be in there after class. Curious, I checked with my lab assistant. This student was in the lab for about 16 hours a week.

I was impressed with his homework. It was always complete. He did not take shortcuts, either. I could tell it was his work, too. While it was always correct, there were idiosyncratic phrases and punctuation. The chain of thinking indicated individual effort, too.

Then I gave the first test. It was not that hard a test – multiple choice, 40 questions. One hour to do the test. I think the average was an 85.

I expected him to ace it. He scored about 50. The answers to every one of the first quarter of the test were correct. Every one. Then, in the next quarter he got six right. The rest of the test? It was obvious he was just guessing.

I looked at it. He started out strong. As I expected. Then things started going wrong. I knew he knew the material. It was as if he had run out of time. Suddenly the answer hit me.

I needed to test that answer, though. I went to the computer lab early, when I knew he would be there and no one else from the class would. He was there and I sat down next to him.

I said, “I want to talk to you about the test.”

“I didn’t do well, did I?” he responded.

I gave him a sheet with that day’s assignment on it. “Do me a favor. Read this to me. Aloud.”

He did – very slowly. It took two minutes for him to puzzle out and read the first sentence.

I told him, “There is no disgrace in not being able to read well. All of us start out that way. The problem comes if you do not fix it.” At that point I explained the college had a reading laboratory for students who had difficultly reading. It improved their reading. Whatever problem he had could be fixed, because he was plenty smart.

I also told him I had discussed this with the dean. In a community college, students with reading difficulties were categorized as learning disabled and qualified for accommodation. The accommodation I arranged was that next three tests would be read to him (by the lab assistant). He still had to answer the same questions as the rest of the class, and he would still have one hour to do the test.

But I also told him the first test would still count because he had been a dumb [CoC Violation] who had not been up front with me about his problem. If he wanted to make up the points he could do extra-credit homework. And go to the reading lab.

I asked him if I thought this was fair. He said it was. We had him take the next tests separately. (I never told the other students why.) He did the rest of the assigned homework as before, and did a bunch of extra credit work. He finished the class with an A-, and I think he earned it.

I learned the rest of the story from my lab assistant, another older student trying to restart his education. My guess about the man had been right. He had been an athlete – a standout football player through junior high and high school. Earned a football scholarship to a Big 12 university in Texas. Played first string at college four years, and then went pro. Signed a fat contract for big bucks. Was a contender for all-Pro as a defensive back. He had it all: fancy house, trophy wife, money in the bank.

Then he blew out his knee. Within two years he had lost everything: football career, money, house, and wife. (She proved a good housekeeper, though; kept the house and his savings.) Two years later he was back in Texas, dead broke and living in a trailer at his parents’ place. He had a high school diploma and a college education, but both were worthless. He had never gone to class. Substitutes had taken his tests for him.

His coaches and teachers encouraged that all through public school and college. It gave him more time to practice and ensured he would pass all his classes. When you are young, a gifted athlete and everyone, including those you trust most, is telling you to do it that way because you need to concentrate on your gift for football, you go along because it is so easy.

At some point during his time in that trailer he realized he had been had. That those he trusted had been using him to further their careers. He got angry about that, but he also knew he could not do anything about the past. Instead he decided to pay it forward by making sure the next standout athlete did not fall into the same trap as he had. He decided he needed to become a high school football coach. One who would make sure his players understood the need for a good education, and the transitory nature of a sports career.

That meant he needed a degree to be qualified to teach. He surrendered his bachelor’s degree so he could start his education over and do it right this time. He signed up at the only place that would take him – the local community college. One of the classes he signed up for that semester was my Intro to Computers class, because he knew computers were important.

I think after the test in my class they did a disabled student accommodation for him in all the classes he took. I did not know because I was only on campus one night a week. I do know he did go to the reading laboratory that semester, because I checked.

After he finished my class I saw him again only once. It was several years later. I was moving back to the Houston area. I had gone to the public library to return some books – the last books I checked out from there before moving. I saw him sitting in a chair in the library with two little girls on his lap. He was reading a book to them.

He saw me and waved me over. He introduced the girls as his nieces. He took them to the library every Saturday because reading was important.

I asked how he was doing. He told me he was finishing up his degree that December, and was getting his teaching certificate. He thought he had lined up a coaching job at a middle school in East Texas for that fall.

He thanked me for the help I had given him in that computer class. He said it was the last piece he needed to get into coaching. He knew he needed help, but did not know how to get it or what to ask.

I told him the pleasure was all mine.

There are 23 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    Under John McKay USC took pretty good care of the student athletes. I know of several who came back and got their bachelor’s degrees. One was Ricky Bell who followed McKay to Tampa Bay. Bell came back and got his BS but died in 1984 of an autoimmune disease. Still, he died with his degree.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricky_Bell_(running_back)

    I’m not sure later coaches cared as much about players.

    Bill McColl was the opposite but George Halas let him go to medical school after football season.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_McColl

    • #1
    • June 7, 2017, at 12:23 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Love this story of empowerment, @seawriter. Goodonya, ‘Teach.

    • #2
    • June 7, 2017, at 1:27 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Patrick McClure Coolidge

    Sad, but great story, with a wonderful ending. Thanks. I wish I could like it twice.

    • #3
    • June 7, 2017, at 1:30 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Beautiful, @seawriter! Glad you were eager to piece together the truth – and to help…Blessings on ya!

    • #4
    • June 7, 2017, at 2:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Jon Gabriel, Ed. King

    Community colleges get a bad rap. Maybe I’m biased because the schools in AZ are among the best, but I received a much better education in my first two years at community college than I did the final two years at university. In general, the CC teachers were far more hands-on and knowledgeable. (The only exception to that was my final semester at uni.)

    Also, I opted for night classes when possible since my fellow students were older, had day jobs and life experience, and were focused on getting the work done. They worked in the real world and wanted that diploma; this made them the best project partners.

    • #5
    • June 7, 2017, at 4:16 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  6. Fritz Coolidge

    Excellent story of a man with enough character despite having been let down by others not to blame them, but to look ahead and do what he had to do to develop his gifts. I hope he has a long illustrious career molding young athletes accordingly.

    When I was at IU (Bloomington) for grad and law school, Coach Bobby Knight was a hard taskmaster of a martinet, I’ll grant you, but he also made sure his basketball players took actual classes and nearly all finished their degrees.

    • #6
    • June 7, 2017, at 4:39 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  7. Suspira Member

    What a great story. You made a tremendous difference in that man’s life, and the ripples doubtless improved other lives.

    • #7
    • June 7, 2017, at 5:54 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  8. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    Suspira (View Comment):
    What a great story. You made a tremendous difference in that man’s life, and the ripples doubtless improved other lives.

    Sometimes the things you do ripple back. I suspect it is not just the good things, either, but it was in this case.

    Seawriter

    • #8
    • June 7, 2017, at 5:59 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. CRD Member

    Thank you for writing. And thank you for helping that man! As a Vietnamese refugee, I started seventh grade without knowing English. (Some of my friends will say that I still don’t! ?) I was helped by good teachers who saw beyond my inability to read, to recognize the potential in me. I’m forever grateful to those teachers! Thank you!

    • #9
    • June 7, 2017, at 6:15 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  10. Snirtler Inactive

    A most excellent story, thanks.

    • #10
    • June 7, 2017, at 6:57 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    That is an absolutely wonderful story. Thank you!

    • #11
    • June 7, 2017, at 7:02 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. profdlp Inactive

    Gary Waters was the head coach of the Cleveland State basketball team until he retired this spring. Every single player he recruited who stayed with the program for four years received their degree. He is a good Christian man who felt that his guys were people first and players second. I compare that to some programs where the coach has been there for twenty years and NONE of his players ever graduated.

    From the USA Today article on his retirement:

    His success at Cleveland State extended off the floor as all the seniors in his program got their degrees and Cleveland State received four consecutive public recognition awards from the NCAA for academic performance.

    Teaching is a great way to make a difference. Good job!

    • #12
    • June 7, 2017, at 7:09 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    An excellent and inspiring story. Thanks!

    • #13
    • June 7, 2017, at 7:38 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Arahant Member

    I’ve known former football players who were bouncers and insurance agents and all sorts of things. The career seldom lasts very long, and few of them really know how to manage their money for when it stops.

    • #14
    • June 7, 2017, at 8:49 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. Grosseteste Member

    Tearing up a bit. Thank you for this contribution!


    This conversation is part of a Group Writing series with the theme “School”, planned for the whole month of June. If you follow this link, there’s more information about Group Writing. The schedule is updated to include links to the other conversations for the month as they are posted. If you haven’t already, please sign up to write about “School”!

    • #15
    • June 7, 2017, at 9:02 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Profile Photo Member

    Excellent story. Thanks.

    • #16
    • June 8, 2017, at 4:08 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. The Whether Man Inactive

    I tutored he basketball team in college, and I remember the athletic director sitting me down and telling me that they don’t do anything that’s more important than the time they spent with me. He said most of the guys from our school (R2, public, not getting the top high school recruits) had no shot at the NBA whatever they thought, so our job was to use their scholarship time to set them up to work after college. I always appreciated that attitude from him.

    I’m also a huge believer in community college, but not in categorical statements like Jon’s above. Some of my CC classes were better than my university classes, some were worse (and in one special case, much much worse). But the fact that this access point to higher ed exists is something fairly special about the US system, and it can do amazing things like what you accomplished with this man here.

    • #17
    • June 8, 2017, at 4:24 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I’ve known former football players who were bouncers and insurance agents and all sorts of things. The career seldom lasts very long, and few of them really know how to manage their money for when it stops.

    Imagine if from your early teen years (as young as 13) you were told you were the greatest thing ever, everyone treats you like you were a god or goddess, and you got pretty much everything you wanted. And (for a young male) that includes the best looking girls around you throwing themselves at you and making your wildest dreams come true. After a while you would begin to believe it, wouldn’t you?

    And if people told you, especially the adults in your life, told you all you had to do was concentrate on what made you special to the exclusion of all else, what are you likely to do? Especially during the ages 15-21 or so. You would likely decide they were right. Throw in sycophants wanting to bask in your penumbra. What are you going to be like?

    It is very corrupting. I experienced some of that in the last half of my senior year in high school. After three and one-half years of being dismissed as a geek nerd, I did something that suddenly transformed me into a can-do-any-wrong superstar. For the rest of the school year I could have had anything I wanted and done just about anything and no one would have said no. (One of these days I will write it up. I Was a Teen-aged Sex-Symbol. The title is even funnier if you saw a picture of me back then.)

    I found it very disconcerting, and was glad when the school year ended and I could go back to being me. Still it gave me a view of what it must have been like to be the star quarterback or prom queen in high school. I understood why they were so full of themselves, and was glad the temptation it offered lasted so briefly for me.

    Seawriter

    • #18
    • June 8, 2017, at 6:44 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  19. profdlp Inactive

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    After three and one-half years of being dismissed as a geek nerd, I did something that suddenly transformed me into a can-do-any-wrong superstar.

    That is a story, I’m sure.

    On a related note, my pals in H.S. and I used to joke that we were “the greatest group of guys ever who couldn’t get a date on a Saturday night”. (This was not 100% accurate, but often felt like it.) I ran into one of the “really cool kids” about fifteen years later and we got to talking about school. He made the comment that he always envied US because WE were the cool kids everyone in the school wished they could hang around with. (Not including the jocks & cheerleader clique, who everyone hated.)

    You hear that, Cheryl, Emily, and Anna? You could have dated one of the cool kids!

    • #19
    • June 8, 2017, at 4:04 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  20. RightAngles Member

    Seawriter, how rewarding it must be to know what an impact you have on students’ lives. And think of all the ones you impacted without ever even knowing it. In college, I had a boyfriend who was the star of the basketball team. He was allowed to earn a BA by taking courses such as Home Ec, and in the more difficult ones, other people wrote his papers for him. One Saturday night, he was stopped for speeding when I was with him. There was open liquor in the car (illegal in that state). When the officer realized who he was, he let him go. I lost track of him, but I do know he was never in the NBA, and is probably now working at a Dairy Queen wearing a paper hat to work. Too bad he never met you.

    • #20
    • June 9, 2017, at 1:19 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  21. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Seawriter, how rewarding it must be to know what an impact you have on students’ lives. And think of all the ones you impacted without ever even knowing it. In college, I had a boyfriend who was the star of the basketball team.

    I lost track of him, but I do know he was never in the NBA, and is probably now working at a Dairy Queen wearing a paper hat to work. Too bad he never met you.

    I appreciate the kind words, but I did not drag this guy out of the hole he found himself in. He did.

    Imagine the courage it takes while you are in your early 30s to acknowledge that what you had done up to then in your life was meaningless, and then work to fix it. He did not sit on his prat in a parents’ trailer blaming others for his predicament – which he could have, because other were to blame. Rather, he accepted where he was at and went forward from there. Maybe he did try to skate through the poor reading, but he fixed it once he was shown how.

    It gave me a rush when I did meet him at the public library, but all I did was provide an opportunity. He took it.

    Seawriter

    • #21
    • June 9, 2017, at 2:23 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  22. Boss Mongo Member

    Outstanding post, Seawriter. Thank you.

    • #22
    • June 9, 2017, at 4:07 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Boss Mongo Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):
    Community colleges get a bad rap. Maybe I’m biased because the schools in AZ are among the best, but I received a much better education in my first two years at community college than I did the final two years at university. In general, the CC teachers were far more hands-on and knowledgeable. (The only exception to that was my final semester at uni.)

    @johngabriel, here in FL, we have outstanding community colleges. That’s because, what with FL being the party/beach/coolness mecca for a big swath of the country, Floridian kids have to have over a 4.0 just to go to a mid-range state university that you never heard of.

    So each FL university has an affiliated community college, all of which have officially sanctioned “bridge” programs, so that the Floridian graduates with his degree from a top-notch institution. There is zero stigma attached to going to a community college down here.

    • #23
    • June 9, 2017, at 4:15 PM PDT
    • 7 likes

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