FAIL FORWARD

Court reporting students, probably more than students in any other field, fail their tests almost weekly.  As a student, you press on day after day, week after week, and beyond, only to see “FAIL” on your graded paper.  You can fail because of one missed word.  One.  And just when you finally pass a test, the process begins anew and you will most certainly meet with failure again the very next week.  The cycle can be downright demoralizing.

But take heart.

Every reporter before you has failed, repeatedly, and has come out the other side to a career they love, and you can too.  As students you’re expected to fail.  You’re learning.  You’re not there yet.  Probably no one has told you, though, that failure has value, and breakthroughs can come as a result.  The key is analyzing why you are failing and doing what you can to move ahead and face your next speed hurdle with renewed enthusiasm and sense of purpose.

This is why reading back and examining your writing is so important to your progress.  Read back everything.  Be self-critical.  Why are you failing?  What mistakes are you making?  Are you making the same mistakes repeatedly?  Try to be as specific in your analysis as possible.  There could be several reasons:  the same fingering errors; unreadable notes; hesitation; dropping; problems with numbers, synonyms, punctuation; lack of concentration; poor practice habits; time constraints.

Having this information is valuable!  Now that you know what is holding you back or giving you trouble, you can address those areas and form a strategy to mitigate or eliminate them.  There may be several areas that need your attention, which is common.  Don’t get overwhelmed or be too hard on yourself.  You are a work in progress.  The good news is that there are workable solutions to any issue you may have.  Ask for help in overcoming your particular problem area.  Reach out to your teacher or a working professional for advice, or ask NCRA for a virtual mentor. You’ll be surprised at how helpful they can be.

Court reporting school is all about the journey.  Only those who have gone before you know what you are going through now.  The journey will have more failures than successes for sure; but if you heed the lessons that your failures offer, and make a deliberate and steadfast effort during your daily practice sessions, you will become a better writer and PASS that certification test one day!

So the next time you see “FAIL” on your test paper, add the word “FORWARD” to remind yourself to learn from the mistakes made and forge ahead.

The following is the quote from Charles F. Kettering that inspired these comments.  May it inspire you too.  “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement.  One fails forward toward success.”

HELPFUL TIPS FOR COURT REPORTING STUDENTS TO ENSURE SUCCESS

It is disheartening to read student comments on different forums about getting stuck at a speed, their frustration at their inability to move forward, but it is wonderful that we live in an age where students can reach out to a wide supportive audience of mentors who have gone through the same struggles and can offer advice and encouragement through the internet.  If you are a student who checks these various sites for information of this type, you have probably noticed that not all the advice given will resonate with you.  I suggest that you weed through the comments and see if a suggestion hits home with you, something that will spur you on and inspire you to move ahead.  It may be a technique you have overlooked, not tried, been unaware of.  It may be something as simple as practicing in a different location to try to break out of a mental rut (worked for me).  Try to wade through the noise and glean a helpful, concrete nugget or two rather than the simple “press on,” “keep trying,” “don’t give up” advice.

Maybe my tips below will resonate with you:

If you are a beginner, my advice has been and will always be to OWN your theory.  When you go through your daily lessons, write your new words over and over again until you become comfortable with the fingering.  Try writing as cleanly as you can.  Write the words a little faster each time without hesitation.  Memorize your briefs.  Most importantly, make it a habit to REVIEW the material you have already learned.  Your brain and fingers need the constant reinforcement.  Lastly, always read your notes and analyze your errors.  Are you dragging a certain finger?  Are there always shadows in a certain fingering combination?   Are you constantly writing the same word incorrectly?  Failure to analyze your errors is a missed opportunity to improve; and when you can identify and correct your errors on the spot, that is when your practice is most effective.  I recommend at least two solid hours of QUALITY practice a day, more if possible.  Your efforts in the early stages will pay great dividends when you push for speed later on.  You may not realize it, but the way you are practicing now will determine your success, or lack thereof, in the months ahead.

If you are already in speed classes and are not moving ahead, I would recommend dropping your practice speed to where you can write cleanly and build from there.  It will not help you to write messily, with a high untranslate rate, at speeds above your ability day after day.  You are doing more harm than good because your fingers and brain are not making any meaningful writing connections.   It will be time well spent to slow down and regroup.  What I found helpful when I found my fingers thrashing about the keyboard was to write text from a newspaper or magazine.  Just concentrate on writing cleanly what appears on the page before you, punctuation included.  This exercise allows you to concentrate on correct writing form at your own pace in relative quiet.  Aim for perfection.  Write the chosen text as many times as it takes until it is error free.  This is also a great opportunity to add words to your dictionary.  In the end, if you make a commitment to review your past lessons, push yourself to write clean takes, read back everything, and make adjustments where needed, you will eventually see improvement.

I hope you find these tips helpful.  Good luck!

WHO’S GOT YOUR BACK?

Since you will be spending lots of time in a chair practicing, and later reporting, it is a good idea to consider the benefits of maintaining good posture when sitting.  This was mentioned when I began court reporting school in my twenties, and I don’t remember paying it much heed; but, trust me, the decades pass quickly, so the more you can do to protect your back, the better off you will be in your later years.  Don’t take your back for granted!  You cannot report without it.

My yoga teacher always said, “If you do ONE thing per day, work on your back.”  What great advice.  Since court reporters lug around pounds of equipment daily, sometimes up and down stairs or in and out of car trunks, and then sit in the same chair for hours on end, often under conditions beyond their control, it is no wonder many experience back pain and discomfort; but being aware of your back and posture is an important first step in preventing future problems and mitigating existing ones.

There is a lot of information on the internet about sitting correctly in a chair, but the basic advice is to place your feet flat on the floor, bend your knees at a right angle, and keep your back straight with your buttocks touching the back of the chair.  As court reporters, we usually sit in armless chairs with the machine between our legs with our elbows, arms and wrists parallel to the keyboard.  Always try to maintain a neutral position to lessen any strain on your muscles and joints; e.g., avoid sitting with your torso twisted and your machine to one side. Keep your body aligned.  Whenever you have an opportunity, such as during a break, you should stand and move around, stretch, roll your shoulders, flex and extend your wrists.  Court reporting is a sedentary profession, so it makes good sense to move around as much as possible on and off the job, especially since inactivity can make us susceptible to other health problems, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Maintaining a good sitting posture is especially important because it helps you breathe properly so more oxygen gets to your brain and muscles.  This is key, as court reporter training is all about concentration and fine-motor-skill development.  Postural stress will inhibit your ability to take in the amount of oxygen you need to perform optimally and will also contribute to muscle fatigue.  During our intense practice sessions and right before taking our tests, we are often reminded to take a deep breath and breathe for this very reason.  Unfortunately, when we are under great pressure, we sometimes tend to slouch, tense up, and hold our breath.

Get in the habit of self-checking your sitting posture.  Not only will it help with your endurance and stamina on those long days, but it will project an image of confidence and competence.  An attorney once complimented me on my sitting posture, which I found to be very surprising and affirming.

“I’LL HUFF AND I’LL PUFF AND I’LL BLOW YOUR HOUSE IN.”

We all know the story of the Three Little Pigs.  The two pigs who built their houses out of straw and sticks saw them get blown down by the big bad wolf, but the third pig that built his house out of bricks was successful in keeping his house intact.  The wolf could not blow the sturdy brick house down.

The same is true of court reporting.  If you start at the beginning of your studies with a commitment to practice daily with deliberate focus, you will have a solid foundation that will serve as the cornerstone for all the successes and milestones that lie ahead.  If, on the other hand, your early efforts are weak or sporadic, your progress will be either delayed or nonexistent, and your “house” will surely fall.

Your journey will be divided into two parts:  theory and speedbuilding.  Learning your theory comes first, then speedbuilding.  Your success in building your speed depends on how well you learn your theory.  The National Court Reporters Association certifies reporters at 225 wpm.  It is a long road; commit now to master your theory inside and out so you can reach this goal!

Theory involves learning the keyboard, which is comprised of letters and a number bar.  Unlike a typewriter, where only one key at a time can be depressed, on the steno machine multiple keys can be hit at the same time.  Single keys or multiple keys in different combinations can stand for words, sounds, or phrases.  Theory determines which key combinations signify the “shun” ending, for example, or long or short vowel sounds.  If you master your theory, you will have the footing necessary to move ahead.

Why is it crucial to master your theory?  It is simple:  You will not be able to build speed if you hesitate when writing.  Your writing must become automatic.  When you hear a word, you must be able to immediately strike the correct key or keys to record it.  Hesitation will cause you to “drop” words and fall behind.  As you strive to increase your speed in the months ahead, if you have trouble recalling your theory or have difficulty implementing it, you will be in the unenviable position of writing poorly and constantly playing catch-up, a losing combination.

If you are to invest the energy, time and money to pursue a career as a court reporter, it is imperative that, from the outset, you learn and review your theory on a daily basis.   As you progress from lesson to lesson, make review of your previous lessons part of your routine practice regimen.  Strive to write cleanly all the time.  Look at your notes or screen for fingering errors and work to correct them immediately.  You are embedding words and their respective strokes in your memory bank.  Build a strong foundation that will be the base upon which you can build your victories.  Good luck!