Category Archives: Spring 2018

Your Mind Is Like a Parachute, It Only Works When It’s Open

By Darryl Mangles
Lead Writing Assistant/Writing Center

I dropped out of school in 11th grade, got my GED a decade later, and didn’t set foot in a classroom for another decade. The moment I arrived at LCC, I was out of my element. College was a different world to me; the landscape, the people, the language were all strange. The campus was huge. I felt out of place, disoriented. I had no idea where I was going or where I was. The classes I’d sat through were using words I didn’t understand. It was all alien to me.

That first semester at LCC, I enrolled in a Writing course. Since I didn’t know what a thesis statement was or how a simple topic sentence might work, my instructor suggested I visit the Writing Center. My first visit paired me with a tutor who asked me too many questions. I left discouraged yet feeling a little vindicated. In my heart, I was looking for any excuse to say, “College isn’t for me.” I simply needed verification that I didn’t belong here.

However, after encouragement from my instructor to give the Writing Center one more chance, I went back; this time I met Ruth. She listened to me, not fake listened but really listened. Ruth answered questions instead of asking them. For the first time in my life, someone really heard what I was saying.

Her tutoring schedule was so booked that I made sure to schedule my next appointment as I checked in for my current one. When we began meeting on a regular basis, a fog lifted. Ruth taught me how to learn by opening my mind to the perceptions and experiences of the people around me.

By listening to me, Ruth slowly nudged me into a more socially acceptable voice—a voice which would never have been heard had I not exchanged my ignorance and hate with knowledge and open mindedness. Instead of telling me when I was wrong, she would lead me to seeing it for myself. Her persistent positivity forced me to abandon my old style of black and white thinking and embrace this new learning.

Ruth opened my mind by making hard things simple. She is beautiful, wise, kind and inspiring. A strong woman with a gentle and caring soul, her presence makes you trust she has your best interest at heart. I felt she was more interested in me than any assignment, which is one thing that kept me coming back. It took writing this to realize there was never any one experience that stuck out: her consistent kindness and the interest she showed in me taught me that I had as much right to be in college as anyone else.

You Really Can’t Tell a Book by its Cover

When I was in graduate school, Stephen Brookfield’s book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher was required reading. His message spoke to me. I was drawn to his ideas about figuring out who I am as a teacher. I often think about a story he shared describing a student who sat in the back of the class, arms folded looking uninterested and disengaged. Brookfield was thrown off and spent some time trying to get through to him, to no avail. Later that day that same student turned out to be the driver assigned to take Brookfield to the airport.

The author was surprised when the student shared how meaningful Brookfield’s message was to him. In spite of nearly insurmountable challenges, that student had managed to stay in college. It was not lack of interest, but lack of sleep that caused the disinterested appearance. Had they not run into one another, Brookfield would have had no idea of the impact he had on that young man.

A few semesters later, I had a student who sat in the back of the room on his computer through most of the semester. Now and then he would look up and answer a question just to show me that he was listening, but I believed he really wasn’t; at least that’s what I thought. One day, at the end of the semester, I let the class out a bit early. As I gathered my things I realized that he was the only student left in the room. He told me that he hadn’t wanted to take my class (no surprise); it was required for his scholarship. In spite of his reluctance however, he said I had made an impact on him. He even acknowledged that it takes a “special talent” in his words, to hold the interest of students who don’t want to be there.

Until that brief moment, I thought he didn’t like me much. He was about the last student  from whom I expected kind words, let alone a compliment. I’m ashamed to admit I thought him impatient and entitled. I couldn’t have been more wrong about him. I guess Brookfield was right; we can’t always tell what’s going on with our students based only on what we see. I didn’t really get the message until it happened to me.

Break a Leg

Andrew Bolig
Adjunct Faculty, Science

I could barely hear a faint knocking at the door over the storm lashing the windowpanes.  Outside, freezing rain had turned the roads into an ice rink as my students completed a midterm exam.  Tanya, on crutches and juggling a bookbag, struggled to knock again.  She had been hit by a car, totaling her vehicle and breaking her leg, yet still managed to show up to take an exam.  I was amazed at her persistence, and even more surprised by her composure as she performed admirably well.

It was some time before I saw her again, and I feared the worst.  After two weeks she appeared at my office hours and asked, almost pleading, if she could still be in my class.  I was puzzled, and said, “Of course,” explaining that it would take some effort to catch up with the missed material.  She had been prescribed heavy medication during her recovery, and her speech was a bit slow, though there was a bright spark in her eyes.

All of her other instructors had dropped her from their courses due to lack of attendance, and she was expecting the same from me.  Quite the contrary, I was deeply impressed by her resilience and dedication, and welcomed her back.  For the remainder of the semester, she came to all of my office hours well prepared, with a strong motivation to learn.  She made up for lost time and truly shined.  With a strong outgoing personality, she raised many questions in class that others were too timid to ask, which benefitted everyone in group discussions.  She finished the course with a 3.5, and went on to become a top student the next semester in a more advanced class.

I am most grateful for the exemplary dedication to learning and perseverance that Tanya showed in those difficult days.  One of our missions at LCC is to ensure that all students successfully complete their educational goals.  With all of the hurdles that life can place in our way, I had become complacent with retention rates that fell far short of this goal.  Witnessing the trials that one student overcame to achieve her goals reminded me what an honor and joy it is to facilitate this process.  She made me more cognizant of the challenges outside of the classroom that make success difficult, and more grateful for the opportunity to help others succeed against the odds.

Accommodating Life-long success!

Adam Marschall Jaros, Ph.D.
Adjunct instructor, Biology

Christine was an older student who required a walker to navigate to class. On the first day she selected a seat in the back near the door. I thought it was odd that a student with a mobility-disability would register for a Face-to-Face section of Environmental Science that required off- campus lab activities as well as a fair amount of walking. This lead me to thinking about my students in general as I have noticed that many students come into my class in good health with full mobility and yet they fail to perform. Christine had the tables stacked against her and yet, was ultimately still able to model success at LCC.

The first week that involved lab activities outside of the classroom Christine came to me with her accessible accommodations form after class. She gave me the form to notify me of her academic struggles, not to force me to alter my lesson plans but simply as another piece of information which would allow us to work together to accommodate her education. We had a discussion about the options I could provide her or even the possibility of her taking an online version of the same class. Christine told me how committed she was to finishing her degree but had limited access to the internet so instead of simply giving up because she would be at a disadvantage in an online course, she decided to take Face-to-Face instead. Where some students would have stopped at that first obstacle, she decided to take the Face-to-Face section to keep progressing.

My role in Christine’s success was providing her with alternative lab activities that did not require mobility. She took advantage of my office hours where we related the topics in the alternative labs to the exams.

Despite her mobility issues, Christine never missed a class period (or was ever late!). Her dedication overcame all her accessibility issues and she did perform well on exams and completed all of the alternate labs I provided.

Eight months later, I saw Christine outside of the entrance to the Gannon Building and she told me she had graduated! She told me about how much she enjoyed my class and how she had finally achieved her goal. This experience has made me realize that we can provide educational access to students by meeting their needs and understanding their goals.

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”.

Practice Makes Possible

Josie Sebastian
Adjunct Associate Professor, Sign Language 

Any teacher can recall a student that made an impression on them.  Often times that student is one who excels in the classroom and is a well-rounded individual.  I could list many students who have made that sort of an impression on me, but it is the students with disabilities that take sign language courses I remember long after the semester is over.

I practice yoga and my instructor likes to say something that I have adopted as my motto, not just for yoga, but for life in general and it applies well to teaching and learning: “practice makes possible.”  

I had a student, we will call her Anne, with learning disabilities and anxiety.  She was prompt and upfront about letting me know her disabilities and accommodation needs.  Anne would communicate with me frequently to discuss her grade, study techniques and ways to improve.  By midterm, she was failing.  Her concern was about not passing the class, thus creating a chain reaction of transferability issues of courses to another collegiate institution.  Anne was an art major.  She had taken every other language course she could, not passed, which is why she ended up in my sign language course.  While I sympathized with her situation, I tried to convey the importance that understanding the content was more important than a grade.  I told Anne my motto, “practice makes possible.”

The desks in Sign Language courses are set up in a U-shape so that everyone can see each other.  Anne would sit just outside the U, in the corner, withdrawing from everyone.  While she started off the semester isolated from her classmates, as the course progressed she began to participate more and ask questions.  She talked to students that sat near her and attended tutoring. 

Anne did pass the course.  After working with her, I have a better understanding of  students with disabilities; their needs and how their perceptions of education and learning might be different from that of other students.  I have a commitment to my students and the content.  A commitment to provide a learner-centered classroom environment focusing on the the process of learning.  Through their education at a community college I want my students to better themselves.  One can never go wrong with learning, and we should all strive to be lifelong learners.