Dr. Paul Barlett never thought of himself as someone who could take command of a classroom and teach; he was too shy for that. He nearly failed a speech class in high school. But while he was in graduate school at The Ohio State University, a funny thing happened. He began teaching for extra money, and he discovered that he enjoyed it. Now, after more than 30 years in the classroom at Cleveland University-Kansas City, he has made an impact on thousands of students, on the way to a career that has never really felt like work.
Q. Why did you choose a career in teaching?
A. I became a teacher because of that look on a student’s face when something clicks for the first time. In addition, I’m helping students accomplish their goal of getting a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. I realize that I’m a small piece of their educational experience, but for me, to know that I helped them reach the end that they want is very motivating.
Q. Most people can trace their career choice to one time or experience in their life. What moment directed you to where you are today?
A. When I graduated from college, I thought I wanted to go to medical school. The best thing that happened to me was that I didn’t get accepted. I was advised to attend one year of graduate school, and then reapply. That’s when I started teaching to support my family. I decided to stay in graduate school and earn master’s and doctoral degrees.
Q. Name four very different activities you might do in a typical day.
A. Well, first and foremost, I stand in front of a classroom full of students presenting my courses in anatomy, which is my reason to get up in the morning. Depending on the day, I might be in the gross anatomy lab cleaning out dissection tanks, or emptying cadaver tank buckets. I’m a former competitive power lifter, so weight training is very important to me. I also love to swim, cycle and run, and have competed in triathlons up to the Half Ironman level.
Q. What are you most proud of in your career?
A. When I sit at graduation and watch students cross the stage to receive their diplomas, I think that I helped that student get to their goal of becoming a chiropractor. In my more than three decades in chiropractic education, I’ve done many things associated with the University and the profession. I’ve been a dean, I was the first director of undergraduate studies, I served on the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Seeing students accomplish their goals is what makes me most proud.
Q. When you think about your career, what keeps you motivated?
A. My biggest motivation is the students. They show up every day ready and hoping to learn new material. I also like the people I work with. They are my colleagues, but also my friends. I can probably count on two hands in the past 32 years the number of days when I didn’t want to come to work.
Q. What personal characteristics have helped you in your profession?
A. The anatomist that I studied under during graduate school suggested that if you wanted to be a great anatomist, you had to have three characteristics. You must be a scholar. It’s all about never believing that you know everything, because you cannot. Never stop learning. Also, you must be an artist. That was before the computer age; it is now possible with computer images to get around this one. And lastly, you must be willing to get messy. Dissection in a gross anatomy laboratory isn’t always the most glamorous thing an anatomist does, but that’s the way we learn. I also believe teaching takes a special person that can relate to their audience. Whether it’s students, alumni, or administrators, you have to be able to strike up an understanding with them.
Q. Name something that you had wrong about your profession going into it and why was that a good thing?
A. When I first starting teaching at CUKC, I was very young. I had students who were older than I was. This forced me to take control of my classes. And believe me, there were challenges. But what I found was that if I was in control, if I was dynamic, and if I was confident in my ability, I could be a great teacher. I am still striving to be that great teacher. My shyness forced a change in my outward personality. If one projects confidence, one will seem confident.
Q. What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your career footsteps?
A. I think the best advice I could give is to always enjoy what you are doing. Don’t get hung up on money or fame, just enjoy what you do every day. If what you do doesn’t make you happy, then you aren’t doing what you should be doing – find something else. As the saying goes, ‘If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’
Watch the interview with Dr. Paul Barlett below for more in his own words and follow #CUKCinsight on social media!
Ready for more Insight? Go here for the story of Dr. Sherri Hays, a second-generation chiropractor.