Inside the NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand online program

A 2017 survey of NCRA members revealed that 75 percent of the membership has been in the court reporting profession for 16 or more years. In fact, 64 percent have been in the profession for 21-plus years.  With that much tenure, it may be difficult to recall what life was like before court reporting.  In an effort to learn more about the experiences and motivations of the next generation of court reporters, as well as to experience steno firsthand, NCRA Marketing Manager Elisa Cohen recently took the NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand online program.  During the program, three fellow participants who completed it agreed to share their stories:  

  • Jessica Pell, a correctional officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, who has four children and an encouraging mother-in-law in the profession;
  • Jeff Spears, a 38-year-old telecommunications technician from Kentucky, who lives in Texas with his wife and two young children; and
  • Arlisia Stansberry, a single mother with an established career as a corporate nurse, who is ready to begin a new career path in the field that has interested her since high school.

Each of these participants decided to investigate a career in court reporting as a result of a recommendation. While serving on a jury in San Antonio, Spears was told of the court reporter shortage from the presiding judge. The suggestion particularly resonated with him. With injuries from his athletic childhood, his earlier landscaping business, and two recent knee surgeries as a result of climbing phone polls for a living, Spears is eager to be able to support his family with a job that isn’t so physically demanding.

Pell learned of the profession, and the A to Z program, from her mother-in-law, who has been a court reporter for more than 10 years. The program reinforced Pell’s interest in the court reporting profession. “It was a lot of fun! I learned so much during a short time and feel I have a strong understanding of the basics,” Pell said about the A to Z program.

Stansberry learned about the A to Z program from one of her former high school classmates, who has been in the court reporting profession more than 20 years. When she was just out of high school, her classmate inspired her to start court reporting school. She took only one level before switching to a nursing career at the suggestion of her mother. “I loved shorthand. Always felt a calling for court reporting. But with young kids, as a single mom, I couldn’t go to school and keep a full-time job,” she explained.

After a full career involving extensive travel as a corporate nurse, Stansberry had an epiphany one late night and pulled out her old green steno machine.

However, the similarities among these participants end when discussing what interests them about the profession.

Pell finds it fun and is interested in learning every aspect of steno. “It’s like learning a language within a language,” she explained.

Spears, who hopes to become an official reporter, feels driven to civil service by his father’s example as a police officer.

And Stansberry? She is fascinated by the ability to type verbatim what is being said: “Amazing to me, just amazing to me, how you put those letters together. I don’t see PL anymore, I see M. It’s just weird.”

When it comes to discussing the obstacles that may lay ahead, the unifying concern among these participants is time. Pell is concerned that her “crazy” work hours as a correctional officer combined with the demands of her four children will get in the way of her practice time. Spears has similar concerns, since he homeschools his children and may get distracted by the needs of his 3- and 8-year-olds. As for Stansberry, her current job requires extensive air travel, which might impact when she will be able to take classes and practice.

We asked each participant what they want to ask of experienced court reporters. Pell is most curious about what can be done when stuck at a speed plateau. Stansberry wants to know how to manage staying awake for hours and keeping calm from some of the things that are said during trials or depositions. And when Spears was asked if he had any questions of experienced court reporters or captioners, he replied: “Holy cow.  I’ve got about 78 of them!”

The good news: After completing the six-week training in the A to Z program, each of these participants are planning to enroll in court reporting school as soon as possible.

The next online A to Z classes start Jan. 27 at 6:30 Eastern; Feb. 10 asynchronous; and April 9 at 8 p.m. Central.