From dropout to doctorate

Over 1.2 million students in the United States drop out of high school annually, and Cedar Shoals science teacher Dr. Marcus Bartlett was one of them in 1999. However, Dr. Bartlett later continued his education and received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in May 2019. 

In the beginning of his junior year after many unfulfilled in-school-suspension punishments, Dr. Bartlett decided to drop out of Stockbridge High School in Henry County.

“I skipped school a lot and had no interest in sitting in the classroom. I ended up with an outrageous amount of days of ISS, which rolled over to the next school year during my junior year. At the beginning of my junior year I felt that I couldn’t ever bounce back and ultimately decided to drop out,” said Bartlett. 

While working many jobs such as building cabinets, cleaning pools and being a janitor, Dr. Bartlett had little free time while he studied to earn a general education diploma independently. 

“I got my GED right after I dropped out, then went to a two year school. I still didn’t have the right mentality, so I didn’t make it in the Griffin Technical School. I just had job after job after job,” said Bartlett. “About two years later I went back to the two year school. I went back and I flunked out again. By the third time I finished and it sent me on this path.”

LEAVING AN IMPACT: Bartlett helps a student with her work. “I see myself in quite a few of the students that I have met during my time so far,” Bartlett said.

Although Bartlett’s parents weren’t all that pleased with his decisions, they decided to let him live his own life. 

“Sometimes parents need to take a step back and watch their children make mistakes, so that they can grow from them. I know that I have made them proud with how I have turned my life around over the past decade and the hard work that I have put into making my future successful,” Bartlett said.

After getting an associate degree in architectural drafting at Southern Polytechnic University, Dr. Bartlett made the choice to further his education and get his Ph.D. in chemistry. 

“I feel that I am a lifelong learner and have a lot of personal questions about the world and the universe that I am interested to know the answers to. I learned that studying math, physics, and chemistry helped me understand and be able to answer some of the things that I have been asking myself for years,” Bartlett said.

Ever since Bartlett dropped out, he regretted his decision and knew he wanted to continue his education. Finally he received his Ph.D. in May 2019. This year marks his first year being out of school and in a new environment. He hopes to continue to learn more about being a teacher from his co-workers at Cedar. 

“While my content knowledge is high, I have a lot to learn from teachers who have been teaching for many years. I am learning new things daily,” Bartlett said. 

From this experience Dr. Bartlett has developed a better understanding of the students he teaches and how they may feel while trying to make it through high school. Bartlett has chosen to use what he has learned to inform students about the truth about dropping out and why he soon regretted it. 

LOOKING BACK: Bartlett sits for a high school yearbook picture. “The university ultimately takes care of you if you work hard and create a path to follow,” said Bartlett.

“I believe that my background aligns with what many of the students at Cedar Shoals are going through. I can see how my history with high school, along with knowing what life is like on the other side of dropping out, could possibly be valuable for someone who may currently be going through the same troubles,” Bartlett said. 

On the first day of school, Bartlett informed his students of his past, hoping it would give them a better understanding of where he came from. 

“I think him telling us that he dropped out and knows the struggles of high school helped us relax a little more in class. It definitely helped him relax too,” sophomore Aseel Mansour said. “The thing I like about Dr. Bartlett is that he’s passionate about what he’s teaching us and teaches it well.”

After many long years of working for his Ph.D., Bartlett plans to use this year to learn about being a teacher as well as taking time to be with his family and enjoy his accomplishments. 

“I want everyone to know that no matter how much you screw your life up, it is never too late to change lanes and get back on the right path. I think that my story is a true testament to just that,” Bartlett said.