One Student at a Time

Veronica Balcarcel
Adjunct Faculty, Sign Language Department

Brandon brought lots of energy (sometimes the disruptive type) into our group, and he was genuinely excited to be learning sign language and to become an interpreter one day. He caught my attention from the very first day of class because of the way he presented himself: confident, loud spoken and for his use of humor (mostly dry humor) to diffuse nervousness and mistakes.

As I started learning more about Brandon and his classmates, I noticed some of Brandon’s peers didn’t welcome his sense of humor and were unsure on how to relate to him. I also took note of Brandon’s mood swings: from being excited and confident at one moment to being depressed and unsure of himself the next one. I knew I needed to address these behaviors and find a way to get to know him better so I could support him in the best way possible.

I met with Brandon during office hours, unsure of where the conversation was going to take us. I needed to be honest and factual to clearly convey my concerns, but I was uncertain if he was going to be receptive to them. I don’t recall the details of our conversation, but I do remember how Brandon started to open and share more about himself. I started seeing this young man for who he was, a person trying to find his identity, looking for validation and seeking acceptance from the world around him.

A year later, I started working with Brandon in two different capacities: as his mentor and practicum supervisor. I constantly reiterated that he is the only one who can make the needed changes to achieve his goals, as well as to budget his time properly to have some “ME” time and most importantly, how to hone in on his communication skills.

As our conversations outside of the class became more frequent, I could see how Brandon was learning to trust me and became comfortable with being “himself” around me and others. He would share personal struggles outside of LCC walls as well as academic ones. I started to see the whole picture rather than just fragments of one.  I often reminded him how he needed to learn to love and accept himself before expecting it from others. I also tried to help him understand why some peers might struggle to accept his sense of humor and offered him different approaches on how to better communicate with them.

When I called Brandon for his permission to use his name for this essay, we ended up having a thoughtful conversation. His words brought me to tears.  He thanked me for seeing him as a “whole person” and not just parts of him. He was grateful for my continuous support and care, for inspiring him to be the best he can be and for pushing him to achieve his goals. Knowing how I impacted Brandon and the relationship I have with him now, reminds me why I have a passion for teaching others and inspires me to continue to touch “one student at a time”.