All posts by Patty Jacobsen

Reflection isn’t such a bad word

I really enjoyed this 6×6 writing experience of sharing my thoughts with others. I never blogged before. It gave me a time to reflect about the students I have worked with over the years and to give life to my experiences.

I remember back in the early 1990’s, during my last semester of college prior to student teaching, everything we did in our education block had to be reflected upon. We had to write reflections on our lesson plans or what we gleaned from a particular writing or how a classmate conducted her lesson…. I began to really hate the word “reflection.” One day, my instructor told us to reflect on all our reflections. That did it! I rebelled and didn’t do it!

Now 25 years later, I think I enjoy reflecting. Thanks for the opportunity.


Which way is Change?

Wechange_sign1 have all experienced change: change in our surroundings, change in circumstances, change in thinking, change in appearance and change in attitude.

I’ve never quite fully understood how some people can easily embrace change and can adjust their lives while others get shaken up or experience meltdowns. Change can be actively chosen and created by self, part of nature or brought about by others without our permission or control. Even when we actively make a decision for a change, we may find out it was harder than expected and not so much fun to muddle through.

For me, significant changes in my life included marrying, giving birth to children, balancing college and raising children at the same time, experiencing empty nest syndrome, starting new jobs, sudden death of a love one, adjusting to a spouse retiring, and moving across country and leaving a home and friends of 25 years.  All of these events made my life different than the day or weeks or years before.

Change occurs during my job here at GCC, I experience change on a daily basis. Every day is different. Different students and situations are the springboards for different types of actions and conversations. It isn’t necessarily affecting my personal lifestyle but sometimes it could affect a change in my attitude, both positive and negative.

Our DRS office will be experiencing a significant change in location soon. In fact, there are several offices that are experiencing a change of location. While some staff may not be happy about the changes, others are excited for stability and a place they can call home.

So how can we best handle changes in our lives that throw us off balance and rattle our nerves? We can go in the direction to pray for peace, understanding, or healing of the spirit and mind. Begin to look for the silver lining in our change. Carol Dweck, the Stanford University psychologist and author of the Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, discusses 4 steps for someone to get out of a (words italicize are my own)    Fixed mindset (Woe is me, nothing will change, I’m no good) to a Growth mindset (yes this might be bad but what will I learn from this change/challenge? What can I do better? ).

Step 1: Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.” (I call it the negative and defeated voices)

Step 2: Recognize that you have a choice. (I get to decide what to listen to and believe about myself or circumstances. I get an opportunity to change the way I think and believe about my situation or myself)

Step 3: Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice (My change or situation may not look good but I will learn to find positive things about it)

Step 4. Take the growth mindset action. (Whenever negative, defeat thoughts and actions occur, identify it for what it is and then translate those to positive thoughts, speech and action)

I would encourage you to learn more by going to


Knowing their Stories

Sometimes we don’t really know or understand the barriers to learning that some individuals experience in school. We might look at the ease of our own ability to organize our time, our belongings, our ability to read, write, study, type, make everyday decisions, socialize and converse among other people. We might tend to look on others and wonder why they don’t try harder, why they are in college, or wonder whether they will ever amount to anything.

Here are a small portion of students’ stories from my personal experience: (Names have been changed)

Amy volunteered to sit on a panel with other students with disabilities to share experiences with faculty and staff during a brown bag event. She began sharing when she was diagnosed with a learning disability during grade school and moved into talking about her high school experiences. All of a sudden she began to cry and ran out of the room. She shared with me later that as she was sharing with our group, the emotions and pain she experienced in K-12 began surfacing and her emotions got the best of her. She began to remember the childhood ridicule and how instructors would be impatient with her telling her to try harder. I hugged her and thanked her for her courage to share and that even in her reaction to cry and flee spoke volumes to the listeners.

Brad was the male lacrosse player who was diagnosed with ADHD. He confined in me that the school partying scene and expectations of the team camaraderie was getting to him and not a good contributor to focusing on academics. He decided to transfer back to his hometown college and commute from home.

Kert was a football player with a learning disability that cried in my office when we were discussing his academic standing and his learning struggles for that semester. What seemed so easy in high school was now so overwhelming to him transitioning to a residential college. The rigors of practice, workouts and games along with his reading difficulties was just so overwhelming.

Timothy was the veteran returning to civilian life only to return with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Wanting to move forward and obtain a college degree, he was hampered at times with the lingering memories of wartime experiences. He needed to sit at the back of the classroom so no one would be in the back of him. That really wasn’t good for his focusing to sit so far back but he needed to feel safe in the room full of strangers. He used to have a great memory and could retain information, but now this is more difficult and it makes test taking troublesome.

Carl had ADHD, anxiety and Asperger Syndrome. He needed to be in a separate room to take tests so that he could pace when dictating his responses to test questions. For long exams we would split the test in ½ so he could take a break and returned to complete the exam.

There are countless ongoing stories of students such like those mentioned above that seek higher education and we, as faculty and staff, have the challenge and the privilege to journey with them as they explore and move mountains to achieve their goals.

PS: Meeting with Carl often left me feeling really stupid. His passions were Shakespearean literature, the Beatles and an avid movie buff. Every time we met, he would quiz me on films or literature. Even the Beatle questions left me stumped since I had no idea what years each song was produced. I even grew up listening to the Beatles. I should have known the answers!


I Received a Rose for Valentine’s Day


On February 13th, I was sitting in my office and a young man walked by my window and then stopped at my door. I looked up from my computer and saw him standing there with a bunch of roses. “Oh, how pretty,” I commented. He walked in and gave me a rose. I thanked him and he left to continue his mission of giving out roses to the ladies in Testing Services.

I was touched and at that same time frustrated and mad at myself because I couldn’t remember his name. He is one of the DRS students we serve. I used to remember students’ names when I worked at a small private college but now I meet with several hundred students a year and the fact that being older also hinders my memory capacity. 🙂 I can’t keep all their names in my head.

For the next 45 minutes I was possessed with finding out the student’s name.  Why?  Because this student took the time to drop by my office and offer me a rose.  The least I could do is find out who he was and to thank him.

After identifying the student, I re-read my notes related to my meetings with him.  I realized that learning challenges he had during high school and college coupled with surviving a brain tumor has not hampered his spirit.
Although the limitations he experiences academically leaves him feeling useless at times. His friends from high school have abandoned him and he technically can’t work because of the medical benefits he receives. During our last conversation in November 2014 he shared that he is bored. He stays home so much and wants to do something. We brainstormed resources and volunteer opportunities to get him involved with other people and feel useful.

I directed him to Career Services for additional support. I am unsure whether he found a volunteer opportunity or not but one thing I am sure; he took the time to bring roses to the Disability and Testing Services building for Valentine’s Day and blessed my day!


If Famous People Can Make It

TEACH: to communicate knowledge or skill, to provide instruction in, to give insight by example or experience

I alluded in my first post of someone or something being my teacher. The students I have interacted with and assisted the last 15 years have given me insight by their example and experience. What did they give me insight into? What did/do they experience that I have deemed them to be my teachers?

First of all their diagnosis in itself forced me to learn about their conditions, symptoms, limitations, and learning challenges. We can all agree that there are some real obvious disabilities, like blindness, cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, or loss of limbs but what about the less obvious like deafness or hard of hearing or even yet, the invisible or hidden disabilities?

What does it mean to be diagnosed with a learning disability? Are all individuals with this diagnosis the same and experience the same barriers to learning? What about the subcategories of learning disability like non-verbal learning disability, auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, language processing disorder, visual perceptual/visual motor deficit and ADHD/ADD? Now what about the autism spectrum disorders? What do individuals with autism struggle with vs those with Aspergers syndrome? Then enters the psychiatric disorders/conditions such as bipolar, anxiety, depression, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) schizoaffective, psychotic, obsessive compulsive disorder just to name a few.

You might respond that we can’t possibly have all these types of disabilities or more at Glendale Community College. I would dare say, we do.

Knowing the medical term and description of these disabilities only provide a typical point of insight into what it’s like for an individual to maneuver the physical environment of the college, participate in the classroom, listen to a lecture, participate in a group project, view online material, do presentations, take notes, read a text book, study or do research, or take a test.

We get the more complete picture when we meet with the student and ask some leading questions how he/she might function based upon the above typical activities that college students are expected to do.

As an example of how differently an individual lives with a diagnosis, I leave you with this personal experience I had with two students who were diagnosed with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects the way an individual reads. It typically affects their reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, recall, writing, spelling and sometimes speech. One student, I’ll call her Cathy, had great difficulty reading from left to right in the traditional manner but if she turned her paper/book upside down she read right to left fluently.  She utilized accommodations and eventually read her textbooks in the traditional way. When I left the college, she was working on her degree in Criminal Justice. Another student, Margaret, requested all her textbooks in digital format so she could use a text to speech software to read and listen to her course material. During her four years working on her bachelor’s degree, she spent endless hours in the library, meeting with tutors and using the text to speech program. For her, studying and learning was best achieved by listening and talking about it. She graduated with a degree in English.

These students are in good company with such famous people as Whoppi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Tim Tebow, Henry Winkler and most recently we hear, Jennifer Aniston.


Who is teaching me?

My journey, working with students with disabilities, began when I took a position as an aide in a 4th grade classroom assisting a very large 9 year old boy. He was born with Prader-Willi syndrome. In case you are not aware, it is a congenital (present from birth) disease. It affects many parts of the body. People with this condition are obese, have reduced muscle tone and mental ability. They also want to eat constantly because they never feel full. My responsibility was to sit next to him and keep him busy and engaged with what was being taught in class. I also had to monitor and make sure he wasn’t snacking. When I took this job I had absolutely no experience working with students with disabilities. During my teacher education block, there was a 1 credit class on mainstreaming students. Certainly not enough for what I would encounter in the following years.

I went on to get my Masters in Reading and it was there that I would gain some book knowledge about learning disabilities. Again, not much practical and hands-on experience. Then I landed a position as Coordinator of Disability Services at a small private college in NY. Here I got the opportunity to support students with mostly learning disabilities (LD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Wow, if it weren’t for my colleagues in the field and Google, I would have been totally lost in the complexity of the American Disability Act (ADA) and the agency of the Office of Civil Rights and how they hand down rulings for colleges based on discrimination cases. Not only did I have the challenges of learning the laws and guidelines but of also learning about different types of disabilities and how it might affect their access to the physical and learning environment.

I have come to realize that my learning didn’t just stop at the completion of those two degrees nor did learning cease even after a certain amount of years doing the same thing.  For me, and the type of career I have embarked upon for 15 years (and counting), LEARNING is something I do every day. Being open to learning is a necessity because the field of disability services at the college level is fluid and ever changing, every student is different and has different needs and every day is a new situation.

So who is my teacher? I will share in the following posts.