Access to a master: The value of having a mentor

Man in a suit sitting at a steno machine next to a screenBy Joshua Edwards

Back in 2016 before giving my first speech at my local Toastmasters club, I emailed a draft of my speech to my assigned mentor, Jason. Jason is a seasoned member of our club and has given dozens of speeches over the years. He had developed a keen eye for how to craft an effective speech. Jason redlined through several paragraphs of my speech and typed a note about getting right to the point. I accepted his input and rewrote the speech. Had I not worked with a mentor and done it on my own, I would probably have droned on and on about things that are interesting to just one person — me — and barreled through the four- to six-minute time limit.

In the field of court reporting, I am a mentor to several students through both NCRA and the New York State Court Reporters Association. I try to give them the same beneficial insight in reporting as Jason gave me in Toastmasters: to avoid pitfalls, discover best practice habits, and stay disciplined and focused. I’ve heard anecdotes of students spending precious time in useless practice habits like sitting in front of a television and writing the news while the writer is turned off. (How do you know what you are writing?) A student may think that is effective practicing, but without the feedback of either paper notes or a realtime display, it is just a vain exercise.

All of us know how hard court reporting is. In fact, speedbuilding can be just as nerve-racking as public speaking. We can all empathize with the student who has been stuck at a particular speed for what feels like eons and the bitter disappointment of failing that speed test week after week. That student may be just one more failed test away from jumping ship and abandoning a significant investment of time and money. The difference between walking away in frustration and becoming a successful court reporter often hinges on wise input from a mentor.

Mentors guide students, and they offer encouragement and practical advice based on personal experience. When a student works with a mentor, that student has prime access to an individual who has mastered the craft of court reporting and worked in the field long enough to know a thing or two. A well-qualified mentor has operated in a wide variety of settings and has faced and survived both the tedious routine and the exciting challenges that can happen in the course of a court reporter’s day. Think of a young voice student who had the chance to work with the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. Pavarotti had a passion for singing and for encouraging young singers to refine their craft. He not only performed in major opera houses across the globe, but he coached many voice students as well.

Whether a reporting student needs help, an occasional pep talk, or a serious high-voltage motivational speech, the mentor is willing to commit the time and to be responsive to the student’s needs. It goes without saying that the student must be equally committed and willing to put in his or her due time and effort. Remember this is a volunteer effort. Time is valuable to us all, and being a mentor means being willing to give some of that precious time for free. Likewise, the student needs to respect the time and energy given by the mentor for his or her benefit.

I have a mentee* who occasionally sends me her transcribed assignments to look at the punctuation. While reviewing a jury charge, she had put in so many underscores denoting drops that I had to stop marking the grammar. Instead, I wrote a note in red ink: “It is critically important that you practice at a speed you can actually get down.” Her practice habits were not going to yield much success if she continued practicing at too-high speeds, dropping too many words, and trying to learn punctuation from incomplete passages.

*(Yes, mentee is a real dictionary word. Be sure to define it so you don’t get minty, men tea, men tee, or heaven forbid, meanty.)

Communication is key for a mentoring relationship to be successful, whether it happens by email, phone, text, video conference, or in person, if possible. Each week I send an email to a list of more than 90 students and working reporters. The email may cover anything related to the field. After coming back from NCRA’s Convention in Las Vegas, I wrote a lengthy piece summarizing my experiences there. Being a mentor means sharing your professional expertise to help a student reach his or her goals. Being a mentee means receiving valuable tutelage, for free, from a pro who has already been there. So go ahead and sign up. Your future may well depend on it!

Joshua Edwards, RDR, CRR, is a captioner in New York, N.Y. He can be reached at joshua@jbreporting.com.

VOLUNTEERING: NCRA’s Virtual Mentor Program gives back to both sides

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” For many of the court reporting students and professionals who are involved in NCRA’s Virtual Mentor Program, those words ring loudly. The program pairs working court reporters with students to create relationships that often lead to long-term friendships for both parties.

Though the program is not new to the association, NCRA is working to expand it by encouraging more members to volunteer and more students to take advantage of the unique resource. The program, which is available on NCRA.org, provides students interested in finding a mentor with access to a directory of NCRA volunteers broken down by the categories of captioners, CART providers, officials, and freelancers. Students can search the directories to find an NCRA member they feel would be suitable for meeting their needs.

The site includes a list of state court reporting associations that offer virtual mentor programs. There are also student and mentor guidelines available to help ensure both parties have a common understanding and appreciation of each other’s time, as well as a list of questions frequently asked by students who are being mentored. According to both students and NCRA members, the program provides valuable benefits to everyone involved.

“I’d heard about mentorships being a vital part of the industry since orientation day at school. When I heard that mentors are working reporters who dedicate themselves to answering students’ questions, it was a no-brainer for me to look for mentors,” said Katherine Schilling, a student at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif.

“Now that I’ve been in school for a while and I understand just how much there is to learn about the profession – and that it can’t all be covered in school – mentors are a must-have. It makes much more sense to ask your questions and voice your concerns while in school rather than on the job,” added Schilling, who plans to work as a freelancer reporting in Japan upon graduation.

Court reporters and captioners are in a unique position to mentor students because they empathize with the difficulties of getting through court reporting school and being a new reporter or captioner.

“Unless you have a close friend of family member who is a court reporter, it will be hard to find people outside of your pool of classmates to talk to about your court reporting woes. A mentor has gone through everything that you are now facing and has come out of it alive and kicking. They’re living proof that it can be done, and the stories they tell you about their time in the field will help to stoke your excitement about the profession,” Schilling said.

NCRA members who have served as volunteer mentors report that some of the benefits they earn go deeper than just being able to give back to the profession. In many cases, the mentorships lead to long friendships as well.

“I remember very well what it was like to be a new reporter. As good as my school was, there was no way they could have prepared me for the realities of actual reporting. Everyone needs someone who has been there to answer questions and reassure them they are not crazy,” said Jeanne Cahill, RDR, CRR, CBC, an official reporter from Magnolia, Del., who has been in the profession for 29 years and has mentored about 10 students through NCRA’s program over the last 10 years.

“I was fortunate to have an extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and patient first boss. I also made friends with a wonderful coworker who took me under her wing in my first year. Twenty-nine years later, I helped her get her dream job, and we are once again coworkers,” she added.

Volunteering to mentor has allowed Sherryl Davis, a captioner from Parker, Colo., the opportunity to step out of a self-centered approach to life and see things from another’s perspective, as well as working one-on-one with someone. “I remember the challenges of court reporting school, and I empathize with students. Knowing that someone else has been where they are is a great benefit to the students,” adds Davis.

“The greatest benefit to mentored students is that they know that others want to help them,” said Santo “Joe” Aurelio, a retired court reporter from Arlington, Mass., and a mentor since 1959. “I strongly feel that all reporters should help student. I consider it their duty.”

Lisa Selby-Brood, RPR, turned to NCRA’s Virtual Mentor Program when she returned to court reporting after a 17-year hiatus. She said her experience homeschooling her son led to a love of teaching, resulting in her volunteering to be a mentor. Since reentering the court reporting field, Brood, who works as a freelance reporter in Palm Harbor, Fla., estimates that she has mentored between five and 10 students each year.

“The greatest benefit of being a mentor is the satisfaction of helping a student through to completion, especially if you hook up with them in the early speeds and see them graduate. It is a real feeling of accomplishment for both of you,” Brood said.

“For students, if they do it right, they have a leg up from their counterparts. If they ask all the questions that pop into their head throughout a couple of years, then most of those questions are answered by the time they go to their first job,” she added.

“NCRA’s mentoring program is extremely important to students. I feel that a new graduate without a mentor might not continue reporting if there is no one to reach out to when things get incredibly tough,” said Cahill. “My own sister, who graduated before me, became frustrated with her first freelance job and quit reporting after a year. I wish she had had a mentor to talk her through that tough first year.”

Students and NCRA members interested in learning more about the Virtual Mentor Program can find more information at NCRA.org.

What can a mentorship do for you?

I often hear fellow students remark that they want to find a mentor. Some of them have asked me how I found mine, and they almost always have some confusion about the nature of the relationship.

It seemed like I lucked out in my pursuit of a mentor, but looking back, I actually made my own good luck. I noticed an email from a local reporter hanging on the board in my school lab. The reporter was willing to have students sit with her. I thought if she was willing to let a student intern, she might want to mentor an eager student. I emailed her, introduced myself, and asked if she would be willing to mentor me. I received an enthusiastic “yes” in response.

My mentor is now my friend. We share mutual interests, like cooking. We like Starbucks. Our husbands share the same first name. On top of all that, my mentor is fully invested in the field of court reporting, and she thrives on pushing students forward. We keep in touch by email, text, and Facebook. We meet for coffee and lunch. From the beginning, we just clicked.

Secretly, a part of me kept waiting for her to tell me the formula to getting through court reporting school without tons of practice and frustration. My mentor possesses many gifts, but magic is not one of them. She could only promise me that I could do this. I had to practice and work hard, but I could make it happen. She also promised to be there for me, good or bad, and she has been. Teary calls and celebratory announcements and everything in between—she has seen it all.

A mentor can be a lifesaver, but they can only match what the student puts in. Both sides must share their expectations for the relationship and each side must also follow through on what they promise to provide. The student must invest the blood, sweat, and tears. The mentor is a coach and cheerleader. The student does the heavy lifting. The mentor is the spotter. With the mentor’s encouragement, the student is the one who must win the fight.

A mentor can offer:

  1. Encouragement and advice
  2. Practice tips and tricks to help increase speed and accuracy
  3. A shoulder to cry on
  4. Interning and networking opportunities

A mentor cannot offer:

  1. An easy, practice-free plan through the 225 wpm speed class
  2. Motivation to get to class early to warm up or stay late for some extra practice
  3. Mind-reading — keep in touch!
  4. Magic tricks

Most importantly, mentors cannot force students to participate in a healthy, effective mentor/mentee relationship. The student must show an interest, stay in touch, reach out, communicate, and follow-through.

Anyone looking to participate in a mentor program can find connections through state associations, NCRA, and Facebook. Not every connection fits, and that’s okay. Once a relationship is established, make sure to keep the most critical aspect of any successful relationship: communication.

For a student, a mentor can be an important part of a balanced training, a stepping stone on the path to success. The mentor gets to impart some real-world knowledge and experience to a future court reporter and colleague.

 

NCRA has a Virtual Mentor Program to connect interested reporters and students. Students may be in any part of their training, including those who are considering going into reporting as a career. The website also includes resources on state associations and other mentor programs, guidelines, and common questions.

 

Roanna L. Ossege-Martin is a certified scopist pursuing an AAS in Judicial Court Reporting at GateWay Community College in Phoenix, Ariz. She can be contacted at roannao@cox.net.

Case study: Orleans Technical’s internship course

The Court Reporting Internship course at Orleans Technical Institute in Philadelphia, Pa., is one of the school’s greatest program accomplishments. The Court Reporting Internship course prepares students to fill the demand for official courtroom and freelance reporters, broadcast captioners, and CART reporters.

The course also places students on externship sites, provides mentoring, and provides in-class instruction.

The school has onsite faculty and support staff dedicated to providing its interns with one-on-one career advice and job search assistance. In addition, the school’s employment specialist networks with employers from agency owners to local court systems, and that specialist builds relationships in order to help graduates find employment opportunities. Over the past five years, Orleans has maintained a 99 percent job placement rate.

Internship program overview

Internship is the capstone component of the court reporting program. It provides training and education in occupational settings both on-site as a classroom and mentorship experience and off-site as a court experience and a freelance experience.

The interns are introduced to four learning environments: classroom instruction, mentorship, court experience, and freelance experience. The intern receives educational credit upon completion of the internship along with the opportunity for a continued work site assignment leading to future employment. The internship component is a requirement for graduation, and it must be completed within one term.

The flow of all internship and externship activities is regulated by the instructional supervisor, the mentorship supervisor, and the internship coordinator. The internship class is set up for 60 hours of classroom time. The externship experience is set up for 90 hours over a 15-week period.

The court reporting curriculum pairs skill and speedbuilding on realtime steno equipment with additional courses in medical terminology, legal terminology, and court procedures. During the RPR class, students are given the opportunity to train for and receive their notary certification.

The court reporting program recently implemented the Realtime Coach online learning system as part of its curriculum. This program has helped all of its students increase speed and accuracy through structured practice sessions. The students develop computer-compatible, realtime machine shorthand skills of up to 225 words per minute, and they learn to transcribe and edit their own shorthand notes using CAT software.

An internship manual is available for the interns to use throughout the duration of their internship. This manual provides a comprehensive overview of the program and expectations along with the required forms needed for completion of the program.

The internship/classroom phase

The court reporting internship course has evolved into one of the most exciting experiences that the school’s students have encountered. In this course, students receive the final phase of court reporting instruction, which prepares them to successfully transition to the world of work. At this juncture, the students receive all of the necessary finishing tools needed to enable them to fill the demand for official courtroom and freelance reporters, broadcast captioners, and CART reporters. Under the guidance of the internship coordinator, the intern is expected to complete internship requirements during one semester.

Onsite: As a classroom and mentorship experience, the interns meet once a week with an instructional supervisor and a mentorship supervisor. The instructional supervisor meets one-on-one with the interns to review and analyze all transcripts and provide individualized feedback to enhance the professionalism of each student’s work.

The mentorship phase

The mentorship supervisor meets weekly with the interns to discuss their experiences and to assist in helping the interns make necessary adjustments as they plan for the other phases of their internships. The mentorship is there to provide students with support and clarity on issues that develop from externship experiences.

The captioning lab

Plans began three years ago to develop an internship component that would allow the students to gain experiences that would take them out of the classroom and into the actual worlds of court reporting, CART, and captioning. Sitting in the classroom and discussing different career tracks did not seem to be effective or productive. School officials and faculty felt that students should be provided with an atmosphere where they could experience the various career paths themselves. This would greatly contribute to their knowledge and their ability to make decisions about their futures.

The most exciting thing that has happened to the Orleans Technical Institute Court Reporting Internship is the implementation of a new captioning lab. The staff brainstormed and came up with the idea that if the upper-level students were exposed to the latest up-to-date technology and software prior to their graduation, it would help them become more confident and secure in the knowledge they obtained. The staff wanted to make all current steno technology and software possibilities available and accessible to them. Thus, the staff created a laboratory where students were allowed to work, utilizing all of the tools and equipment that the school was able to purchase, including up-to-date computers, monitors, speakers, and software. In the lab, the instructor and students are able to review video reenactments for classroom discussion and observation. Each computer is equipped with live and simulated captioning software. Different versions of the latest CAT software have also been installed. This provides an opportunity for the higher-level students to explore different versions before making a decision regarding the professional software they will need to purchase later on. They are exposed to as much professional equipment as possible in the lab, including Eclipse, Case CATalyst, and Stenovations. The lab is also equipped with live and simulated captioning software on each computer.

The externship phase

The internship coordinator is responsible for regulating all on-site and off-site internship activities. The interns must adhere to the established timelines, guidelines, rules, and regulations set by the internship coordinator for the duration of the externship period. All externship orientation and training is conducted by the school’s employment specialist or sponsor, who makes contact with NCRA or Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association members who are affiliated with court reporting agencies. The court reporting agency is informed of the requirements and expectations of the school’s externship program. Once the contact is initiated and solidified, the agency is approved by telephone or by mail and is asked to sign an externship site agreement, which provides written instructions for the students’ externship activities. The employment specialist/sponsor reviews the externship site agreement via telephone with the on-site supervisor. A packet of information is then sent to the on-site supervisor at the externship site to be signed and returned prior to the placement of students. Any other type of externship site training, follow-up pertaining to questions, daily logs, sponsor evaluations, oversight of students’ notes and transcripts, and so on, is the responsibility of the employment specialist/sponsor.

Each student arranges his or her out-of-school schedule individually with the sponsor to ensure that no conflicts exist in any program-related activities. The internship instructor and the mentorship instructor meet with each student once per week to discuss and review field experience and also to plan for the remainder of the student’s externship experience. In addition, a daily log sheet is completed and validated by the sponsor once a week. The sponsor agrees not to overburden the students with additional requirements over and above the school’s requirements because the students are still maintaining their speedbuilding and have academic responsibilities in addition to their externships. The interns are not allowed to work or earn pay while on externship.

The employment phase

The sponsor assigns actual court reporters to the interns, thus allowing them exposure to different types of procedures (i.e., arbitrations, workman’s compensation hearings, OSHA hearings, etc.). Upon completion of weekly assignments, the agency’s court reporter reviews the intern’s transcripts and renders an evaluation of the assignment on the daily log sheets. All evaluations are based on current industry standards as deemed by the on-site agency. Once the evaluations are received by the school, the transcripts are graded by the instructor according to NCRA standards. This creates an equitable and fair measurement of demonstrated competency and skill attainment of the students.

Orleans Technical Institute has been an ongoing and consistent source of well trained graduates in the Philadelphia area since 1986, maintaining a 99 percent placement rate. Another sign of the success of this program is that the majority of the Institute’s graduates received their first job offers during their internship phase.

EMPLOYER FEEDBACK FOR ORLEANS INTERNSHIP PROGRAM

“For several years, I have had the pleasure of participating in the internship program for court reporting students at Orleans Technical Institute. I can state emphatically that the students who have reached the pinnacle of graduation have been well prepared in all facets of court reporting. Some of Orleans Technical Institute’s interns have been working for my firm, Kaplan, Leaman, and Wolfe Court Reporters, for several years and have performed their duties with professionalism and exhibited exemplary skills and knowledge.”

Gregg B. Wolfe, RPR
Kaplan, Leaman and Wolfe Court Reporters

“As an employer of many graduates from Orleans Technical Institute’s court reporting program, I would highly recommend it to any sincere candidates. The staff at Orleans is dedicated and professional. The program is approved by NCRA and offers the highest quality preparation for this lucrative career. Graduates are placed immediately with either freelance firms or the court system. I have seen many programs, but Orleans is the best.”

Dianne M. Varallo-Kushmir, CMRS
DiscoveryWorks Global