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The lesson behind “You’re processing”

Years ago, I wrote about shifting a student’s thoughts about processing. The student went on to become a court reporter, and I wrote about her path again a few years later. Over the years, I have been contacted by students, reporters, and instructors to expand on the topic with my tutoring and coaching.

The sentence originated when I was teach­ing evening classes in the late 1980s. My stu­dents asked why they were not progressing in speed classes while putting in the hours, while enrolled in academics, while working full time, and while arriving after a long day for a four-hour evening. I saw their frus­tration as their expectations were not met. Students often “flew” through one speed to then “sit” in another. They were challenged by speedbuilding, by typing up tests, by aca­demics, and by nightly dictation.

My parents, both degreed instructors, always asked about my students. My father particularly enjoyed helping me with these challenges. He listened as a guidance coun­selor, social worker, and father.

“My students work so hard. Sometimes I think they’re working too hard. They be­come frustrated. Sometimes I think their frustration is part venting to progress,” I said one weekend.

Mr. Emmett, as my father was known to the reporting industry, replied, “The mind is like a sponge. The human mind has to take time to absorb the information. Tell your students that when you put a sponge into a glass filled with water, the sponge first ab­sorbs the water. This is a process. They came into the court reporting program with an empty slate, learned new skills, and learned thousands of new words with ‘steno lan­guage’. Now their brain, like that sponge in the glass with water, has to take time for the new information to be absorbed. If time is not taken for the absorption—or the pro­cess is interrupted—there is an overflow of water or a problem.

“I saw this when you were a student. You phoned from your dorm room, upset and frustrated. I listened, encouraged you to go back to work, and told you that it would come to you,” he continued. “Your students are learning a new language and new skills. When they fully process the information, they will progress. And it happens when a person least expects it. Yet the work has to be put in. Has to with court reporting skills.”

My parents talked about how very young children have a window of learning, and 4-year-olds are able to easily learn multi­ple languages with little effort. The window closes a few years later.

“Their sponge is filling their glass,” my dad continued. “They continue to learn but probably never at the same pace and with such ease. Kindergarten is the most chal­lenging year to teach.”

He offered me scientific and historical data that revealed how people develop ac­cents around the world—and also how chil­dren who were raised under harmful condi­tions may never have been taught to speak. “Windows close, and this is the same for all cultures,” he reinforced.

The conversation came back to my court reporting students. Mom and Dad discussed how people learn steno theory, progress through specific areas, and then perhaps park. “That is when they are processing in­formation. They have to process to move forward,” my dad said.

With my new understanding of sponges and windows, the next time I saw my stu­dents expressing their frustration, I said, “Your mind is like a brain. Your mind has to process information like a sponge in a glass of water. You’re not stuck. You are process­ing information. Once you fully process the information, you will progress.”

I was proud of myself until the class howled with laughter, “Your mind is like a brain? A brain? Oh, man, we’re going to put that on your tombstone. That was great!”

Maybe that was not my finest moment as a teacher, but each student “processed” that concept instantly.

That night and whenever I have had the opportunity to share this information after that first time, I have witnessed shifts in fo­cus.

Students saw the correlation and em­braced the lesson: “You are not stuck; you are processing.”

Perhaps the mind “is” like a brain with windows and opportunities as we then grad­uate, seek perfection in our writing transla­tion rates, and continue to advance our skills—always seeking accuracy, always progress­ing, always processing.

I wish each of you and your loved ones a grand Happy New Year and a “processing” 2014.