Thursday, September 4, 2008

Have Things Changed That Much? by DL Larson

Kids these days! We've all heard that tired old saying. They don't know how easy they have it, blah, blah, blah... But after reading Norm's blog about typing, it reminded me of days long past when I was in business college. Text messaging would never have been invented if it had been left up to Miss Walker and Miss Elliot. Let me explain.

Miss Walker, a short and plump instructor, and Miss Elliot tall and thin, were sweet, adorable women when young students came to their school. After the two years it took to pass through their tests, the sweetness had worn off. But occasionally someone would be praised in front of the class for excelling at some task they deemed worthy. I don't recall ever being praised. But I do remember working hard for their approval and the diploma they dangled just out of reach.

Shorthand, dictation, accounting, proper English, the classes were grueling, and homework unending. Boring comes to mind. One progressed at one's own pace. I remember a few girls were stuck at beginner shorthand the entire time I was there. They may still be there. Moving on happened when a task was accomplished to perfection. Typing, now typing was the mountain climb few could master with ease. I was no exception. The rule, and it never changed whether the assignment was a three page letter or a ten page document, could have no more than three mistakes. Beginners could erase, but that was always messy with everything being in triplicate. We used carbon paper, people, I'm talking about that blue-purple slippery stuff that turned fingers black by the mere touch and smeared on crisp white paper just for the fun of it. Did I mention smudges were not acceptable? Well, they weren't. No one wants to look at smudged copies in the future. Crisp, clean copies with no mistakes makes for a legal document, not one with mistakes. Typos made any paper imperfect and Miss Walker wasn't about to pass anyone who made mistakes. I really thought I'd never get through secretarial school. Prison would have been so much easier. There I could have served my time and walked away. No one walked away from Miss Walker's class. Young women graduated from her school. Her drop-out rate was non-existent. They didn't have such things as a drop-out in those days. Or so I was always told.

The day ran much like this: Phone etiquette, mail correspondence, filing; please don't remind me of the filing tests. I may faint from the agonizing memory of it! Then came dictation. Miss Elliot's voice was timed to perfection. She would read her letters the class was to transcribe, usually a minimum of four letters. We had to hand in our shorthand transcripts as well as our typed letters she had dictated. Any mistakes and we received a zero for the day. Once we accomplished a certain speed, I mean speed as in taking dictation and completing the typing assignment, we could move on, only if we could consistently maintain that speed. So if one could maintain 30 words a minute for a certain amount of time, usually a week, they progressed to the next level. Dictation worked the same way.

The mind is a funny thing! It notices repetitiveness and files it away for later use. Much like learning a song. The words fall into place and we remember. The same thing happened in dictation class. I realized Miss Elliot's letters rotated from week to week, but my mind had filed them away and so as she picked up speed with her reading, my mind was already singing the tune. I danced through dictation. I didn't really improve in my shorthand, but I had memorized what she was going to say before she said it. I believe every gal there did the same thing. Shorthand really sucked! It may be convenient and all, but as a foreign language I never really excelled in it.

The same thing happened to my typing. I whizzed through 40 words a minute, then 50 and so on. By the time I graduated I typed over 80 words a minute. I'd found something I was really good at. And better yet, it was fun! Well, as fun as working as a secretary can be. Carbon paper no longer frightened me. It was merely a tool I learned to use. I remember years later when I attended our community college and wanted to finish up with my associate's degree, I petitioned to test out of a few classes. I opted to proficiency out of some business classes. They told me it was quite difficult, not really something they were willing to do. I'd be out my money and still have to take the courses. I laughed. They had never met Miss Walker and Miss Elliot. I told those instructors to do their worst, in a polite and professional way, of course.

I aced three classes in one morning. Perfect, crisp, ten page documents done in record time. No carbons, no copies needed. It was child's play. The professors acted as if I had performed a miracle. They wanted to know how I did such a thing.
How do you say, "I learned because someone long ago expected nothing less than perfection from me?"

Maybe kids do have it easier today, and that's okay. But my education has helped me in ways I never realized it would. I'm glad my instructors wouldn't accept inferior performances from me. They set the bar of perfection and I work hard every day to reach it. Kudos to Miss Elliot and Miss Walker!

Til next time ~

DL Larson

PS: I have a question for you:
In my old accounting classes, we were never allowed to look at our fingers when using the calculator. Check your calculator on your keyboard, then check the numbers on your phone. Does this flip-flop drive anyone else nuts????? Why do we as a society put up with such nonsense?? A little conformity goes a long way!


Anonymous said...

I always mix up telephone numbers for that exact reason!!! It drives me NUTS!!!!

Deb Larson said...

It's just silly, isn't it?
Thanks for stopping by.