Student Report: In pursuit of steno happiness

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It’s like an ad on a matchmaker’s website: “Student seeks steno happiness with a partner who is reliable, understanding, and a good communicator.” Steno students are dedicated to the pursuit of steno happiness and finding the pleasure that comes from writing quickly, accurately, and easily all the words that someone says. Steno students enter their new relationship with their steno machine with as much preparation as they can muster. If you are a student, undoubtedly since you first explored the idea of becoming a member of the court reporting profession, you have been told that learning steno can be tough. You realize that practice is mandatory for speed development, that you will need to learn how to navigate and use a court reporting software program, and that you will need to understand court procedures. You have imagined yourself succeeding. You have changed your lifestyle to accommodate school and practice. You don’t watch (too much) television (anymore). The kids and your spouse are helping out with family chores. You feel like you practice all the time, but it still sometimes feels like you are not moving forward as well or as fast as you hoped you would. You’re not feeling all that happy!

Do not despair and give up and let steno happiness elude you. It can be yours, but it takes effort, and there are things that you can do to attain success. Let’s face it: Learning something new can be hard. Steno is usually very foreign to new court reporting students. Learning the theory concepts is sometimes complicated, and the rules tend to feel overwhelming. Executing keystrokes reliably is awkward and physically challenging. Remembering the rules and the outlines takes a lot of effort. And that does not take into account the work that goes into learning how to create a title page, fill out a worksheet, swear in a witness, and learn about how freelance jobs are assigned or how to prepare to caption the evening news — not to mention how your best laid plans to juggle work, family, and any semblance of a personal life have gone way off track.

So, what’s a student to do? There are a number of things that can be done to enhance the learning process, motivate one to practice, and build court reporting skills. In this article, we examine some tried-and-true activities that will support your overall educational efforts and help you reach your court reporting goals.

Get organized. At the start of the semester, find out what dates homework is due and when tests are offered. Put these dates in your calendar right away, and then modify the calendar as dates may be changed. Keep the calendar where you will see it every single day. If you are using a calendar app on your phone, you have access to that tool probably every waking minute. As soon as you know the dates, enter them! Check the calendar every day so that you know what is due and when. If you are using a paper calendar, put that calendar where you will see it. Keep it near your desk or hang it on a door that you use each day. Make it a point to be reminded at least daily of the requirements and the deadlines, and don’t ever ask to turn in anything late. It’s your job as a student to find out when things are due and what is expected of an assignment or test and to prepare for it.

Organize your personal life as well as your school life. Don’t make dates to go out the night before a speed test. Plan to get up early and practice if you have an obligation that must be met that evening. Look around the house and find out what really needs to be done by you and what can — and should — be done by someone else. Schedule errands ahead of time and then take care of those things in an efficient manner. Create a checklist of places you must go, such as the bank, post office, and grocery store, and then map out the most efficient way to reach each destination.

Share your steno happiness. Set aside personal time for your loved ones and take care of those relationships. Thank everyone who is helping you and thank them frequently. Share your goals, and let your loved ones know what’s on your calendar and how much you appreciate their support. You may be writing on the machine and studying the legal vocabulary, but your support team is helping you have that time to yourself. Share your success and steno happiness with others, and you will have more help, more success, and more steno happiness.

Be rested before tests. Get a good night’s sleep before every speed test. It is essential that you take a speed test when you are physically in the best shape you can be. Along with a good night’s rest, eat a healthy breakfast and/or lunch, depending on when you’re taking that test. Writing on too little sleep with a cookie for energy does not bode well for a successful test attempt. Like a race car driver, you need to put the best fuel into the tank to win the race. Be a winner by preparing like a winner, and remember that winning makes you feel happy.

Commit to practice every day. No matter what else is going on, practice. Even five minutes of practice or review will have a positive impact. Skipping a day of practice will never have a positive impact. Contrary to what anyone may say about taking a break, ignoring steno will not make it easier to write. If you can’t physically sit at the machine and write, you can read over some rules, look at any text, and think about how you’d write those words in steno. Keep a list of brief forms and phrases in your car or purse so that if you have a few minutes, you can just quiz yourself on those words and outlines. Talk yourself through a few theory concepts. When a moment presents itself that you can use for the pursuit of steno happiness, take it!

Practice and study with friends. Having a steno buddy who really understands not just what you are going through emotionally as you work toward your court reporting education, but who shares your educational goals is a sure way to build skills in a happy and friendly atmosphere. Learning in a social environment can boost your understanding and motivation. If you are a distance-learning student, no worries; with Skype or Facetime, you can talk face-toface, get questions answered, and explore ways to write. Log on to the Internet, make a plan to practice a while, and then reconnect to discuss how it went, which words were tough, which were easy, and which practice techniques helped the most. We often learn best when we are the teacher, so assisting a friend to decipher an untranslated outline will help you to recognize the same or similar mistroke in the future. Knowing someone else is practicing at the same time will lessen the isolation you feel when you are listening and writing in a world no one around you really understands. Some say misery loves company, and so maybe sharing the challenge of practice and study places students in good company. But perhaps Henry Ford said it better: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Practicing and studying together can lead to great success and the acquisition of skills, along with a sense of accomplishment and happiness.

Have a happy attitude. Why not? Complaining won’t make anything better. Take each moment of practice and study, and consider it a valuable step toward your future. When you hesitate to stroke a word, be glad that happened when practicing and not in a test. Work out the outline and reinforce its correct construction and keystroke. Recognize your accomplishments, and push yourself to do more and get more out of each practice or study session. If you’re not positive you can meet your goals, then who else will be? Be happy with what you are doing to promote your learning goals.

Ask for help! Talk to your instructors when you are having trouble understanding theory or a procedure or a software process. Your instructors want to help you. Nothing makes an instructor happier than a successful student — except being the instructor whose advice is being used by the student. Take advantage of the knowledge and skill of your instructors. Let them help you. You’ll make them happy, and you will be happier in return.

Read, read, and read some more. When you are not particularly working on steno or school work, read the paper, magazines, articles, and books. Fill your mind with information, knowledge, and understanding. If you come across a word and you don’t know its meaning, look it up. Somewhere, someplace, someone else is going to use that term, and won’t you be happy that you know not just what it means, but how to write it in steno with perfect translation?

Write purposefully. Too many students spend too much time writing mindlessly. Select dictation for practice that is just a bit challenging. Write the whole take and check it against the dictation. Rewrite any mistroked words. Rewrite them many times correctly. Rewrite the dictation exercise and stop when you hesitate. Rewrite that section until you can do so without hesitation or error. Keep track of your mistakes as well as your successes. Really know by reviewing if you “got” the whole thing or not. Take responsibility for your writing. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are a better, faster, and more accurate writer than you are by only looking at the untranslated outlines on the screen or by glancing at the accuracy report presented by your electronic performance support system. All mistrokes can and should be fixed purposefully so that they won’t happen again. By taking responsibility, you will be happy with your writing and not frustrated or disappointed.

Reinforce correct writing. Continually write something that you are writing well. That’s right. Build up your muscle memory by repeating exercises for accuracy and precision. Increase speed slowly, checking for accuracy and no dropped words, and then inch up the speed again. As a student building skills, you must be aware of what you are writing and that you are getting all the words with accuracy before going up in speed. Think of all the athletes and musicians in the world. They don’t throw the football the wrong way over and over again; they throw it the right way. The base ball player doesn’t swing the bat too low over and over again; he swings it at the correct height. The piano player doesn’t play the chord wrong every time she sees it in the music; she plays it correctly. Apply that method of reinforcement to your practice, and you will be successful and steno happiness will prevail.

Just keep going. When you think you cannot write another word, do it anyway. When you are too tired to practice another five minutes, practice five more minutes anyway. When you don’t want to review brief forms in the line at the store, choose the longest line and do it any way. It’s only too late to achieve success when you stop working. Just keep writing, practicing, and studying, and you will find yourself in the middle of steno happiness.