Overcoming challenges shows more about character than credentials, he said.
By Zachary-Taylor Wright
District employees gathered to hear an impassioned educator share his path to college, compare life to a pocket square and describe the three types of educators at the district convocation Aug. 21 in the auditorium of McAllister Fine Arts Center.
Dr. Joe Martin, former professor, consultant, motivational speaker and author, opened his speech by asking what he could do to help such an established and great district, saying he sat in the audience and heard all the applause as administrators spoke.
Martin referred to himself as an irrigational speaker because he likes to bring up what nobody is talking about.
Martin asked the audience of district employees to pretend that Chancellor Bruce Leslie and department chairs were not present and asked how many employees were tired.
“Are you tired of being overworked?” Martin asked. “Are you tired of being understaffed? Are you tired of being overlooked? Are you tired of being overwhelmed? Are you tired of being under-budgeted? Are you tired of being underpaid?”
As the audience yelled “yes!” to each question, Martin turned to Leslie and said, “Mr. Leslie, we’ve got some tired folks.”
Martin told the story of his path to college by explaining that he doesn’t like introductions because paying too much attention to credentials causes people to lose sight of character.
“You work hard for your credentials, and I respect that,” Martin said. “But if you really want to inspire me, don’t tell me what you achieved. Tell me what you had to overcome to achieve it. That reveals a lot more to me than what you put on your résumé.”
Martin said he barely graduated high school in Liberty City, a neighborhood in Miami.
He said he graduated with a 2.2 grade-point average and was told he wasn’t “college material.”
Martin planned to enter the Navy until he saw his friends going to college, whom he described as unable to tie their shoes or spell “college.”
“I’m thinking, ‘Now let me get this right,’” Martin said. “‘They’re dumb, and I’m dumb. But they’re dumb, and they’re going to college. Maybe I’m good enough for college.”
Martin said he went to his Navy recruiter, who told Martin he wasn’t college material because his SAT scores were too low.
Martin mocked standardized testing.
“We all know test scores are a guaranteed predictor of the success that you’re going to have in your life,” he said sarcastically.
Martin said he became determined to defy the recruiter’s doubting statement and began applying to colleges.
After being turned down by 30 colleges, Martin said he found a “loophole in the education system,” which was a community college system.
Martin joked that this is why he overcharges universities to speak and favors community colleges.
Martin said he obliviously registered for 17 credit hours his first semester, but he managed to obtain a 4.0 grade-point average by the end of the semester because of the support he received at the college.
Martin said he only keeps his associate degree around him because it reminds him of the first time someone believed in him.
“I have a special affinity to community colleges,” Martin said. “I just wish I spoke at more of them, but due to ‘budgetary concerns’ I can’t get to all of them.”
After completing his associate degree with honors, Martin said he transferred to the University of West Florida.
Martin jokingly referred to UWF as the “university of white folks,” saying he was the only African-American person in all of his classes out of 10,000 students.
“I mean, even the white people on campus were walking around like, ‘There’s so many white people around here!’” Martin said.
After graduating from UWF, Martin said he opened his first business at 22, became the youngest professor in Florida at 24 and got his doctorate degree before 30.
Martin said all those accomplishments almost didn’t happen because people looked at his SAT scores.
“Once they opened that door, I blew the competition away,” Martin said.
After hearing all of the positive feedback from previous presentations at the convocation, Martin said he was trying to figure out what message he had for the audience when one message came to mind.
“Everyone matters, and everyone counts. … But here’s the problem: You have to choose to matter and choose to count,” Martin said.
Martin outlined the three types of educators he said nobody talks about.
The first type are the educators who are always on fire and excited to teach, saying these are the teachers that everyone is congratulating at the convocation.
Martin described the second type of educator as ones having a passion for teaching, but their fire is waning.
“Those who have the fire but they’re kind of losing the fire. … Now we use a technical term and that accurate term called ‘burnout,’” Martin said. “Those are my tired folks that you have to motivate and inspire yourself every semester.”
Martin said the third type of educators are the ones who need to be fired, saying he hopes he can enlighten them to the opportunities they are missing or hopes they have the integrity to step down.
Martin said that people are on this planet to be used because if people are not useful then they are useless.
“You can choose to be useful,” Martin said. “You can choose to be underutilized. You can choose to abuse people. You can choose to misuse people. Or you choose to be useful.”
Martin removed a green pocket square from his jacket, held it out to the audience and explained that ways in which people can live life are illustrated by the ways a person can use the pocket square.
Martin said a person can choose to wipe their nose with the pocket square, which was a metaphor for abusing life, and said this would deter people from wanting to be around.
Martin said some people use the pocket square as a blindfold, tying the cloth around his eyes as an example. He said doing this means people are focused on what they can’t do because they can’t see the opportunity.
Martin said some people wear the pocket square as a bib because they are focused on what they need, placing the responsibility for their failures on other people.
He concluded his metaphor by placing the pocket square over his arm as a restaurant server might do and said people’s focus should be on asking what they can do for others.
Martin asked the audience if they thought the final questions asked after life ends are about their ability to do their jobs adequately or if their usefulness might be more important.
“If I die tonight, I don’t want my loudest sound to be me hitting myself in the forehead. … Serve in your jobs. Serve with passion. Serve with purpose,” Martin said.