By Kimberly S. Coltrain
Kimberly S. Coltrain graduated from court reporting school 30 years ago, right before a hiring freeze. Her life went in a different direction, but “the flicker of court reporting never completely extinguished.” Twenty-seven years later, Coltrain went back to school. Daunted by the new challenge, she was ready to give up when a phone call changed her mind. “There I was, in the middle of Walmart, preparing to fill out an application to supplement my school clerk salary, and my phone went off. I’m so glad I answered!”
My journey began in May of 1988. I walked into my high school office procedures class, and the guest speaker inquired, “How many of you like English?” A portion of the class raised their hands. “How many of you are nosy?” More hands went up. “How many of you like the possibility of making $100,000 a year?” All hands were in the air, eyes glued forward, ears perked! Any previous secretarial career presentations were overshadowed by something called court reporting.
I began attending Stenotype Academy that September. The next 24 months were filled with learning theory, legal and medical terminology, speedbuilding classes, and relearning to type properly (just when I thought the ‘hunt and peck’ method would carry me through!) Within 20 months I earned an occupational science degree in court reporting, and I began a per diem position for the New York civil court circuit. I also began planning (and buying) for my wedding.
A month after our celebration, all non-salaried positions were frozen. I hadn’t invested in acquiring any certifications, upgrading from a manual writer, or CAT equipment. I just couldn’t compete. I had no clue of what a mentor was, and I was lost. My training in general office procedures took precedence. The degree allowed me to command more than if I had only earned a high school diploma, but my heart yearned for the steno world.
The next three decades intertwined with birthday parties, diagnoses, concerts, divorce, scouting, proms, deployments, job searches, just every aspect of life. Throughout those years, though, the flicker for court reporting never completely extinguished. During my last appointment with my surgical team I was asked if I had any plans (did they mean besides smiling 24/7?) I immediately responded with, “I’m returning to my first love.”
I began researching online schools to interview. A brick and mortar school just wasn’t conducive in Atlanta traffic, and for me to drive more than a mile anywhere after dark was asking for an accident to happen! I had my interview questions, my needs, and my wants. I needed to know up front: accreditation, cost per credit, if transfer credits were accepted (even from 26 years ago), and if financial aid was an option. I thought that was enough to at least get started. I looked on websites of several schools, but when I found College of Court Reporting I was hooked! Everything was listed right on the webpage! Cost per credit, time commitment, sample schedule, textbooks, accreditation, and qualifications of every faculty member from academic to court reporting instructors, financial aid, technology, communications and public relations personnel; every question I could think of had a link for the answer. If I still needed clarification, Nicky Rodriguez was now on speed dial. I enrolled in June of 2017.
I wriggled out my little manual ‘dental bowl’ writer and threaded the paper. My fingers assumed the position and I felt like I was seeing an old friend. But how was this going to work? I knew CAT was required if I was planning on a full comeback, but paper was so familiar. No worries, CCR suggested choices of writers that would accommodate me at least through school. My heart said Wave, but my budget screamed Protégé! And I could use paper … until I found that the writer I purchased didn’t have a ribbon cartridge or a paper tray, and the battery had long since gone on to glory. No worries. I downloaded the manual, hit the Goodwill for a $2 USB connector to stop that chirp and it was game ON! The ASCII & zip worlds awaited!
Boy, was I in for a shock! To say that there wasn’t a time I felt like giving up would be untrue. Two weeks before my Theory 1 final, I sent the email to CCR: “That’s it! This is ridiculous! Why I thought I could do this again this many years later is beyond me! Thanks CCR, but no thanks!”
There I was, in the middle of Walmart, preparing to fill out an application to supplement my school clerk salary and my phone went off. I’m so glad I answered! My instructor blurted out, “I know I’m not supposed to, but I had to call. I saw your email. Just stick it out through the final. It’s just two more weeks. Just wait it out…please.” Oh, all right! I stepped away from the job kiosk and went home.
I kept practicing, reviewed the previous lessons, and prepared for the final. Things weren’t so bad…I was okay…what could possibly go wrong? Besides Hurricane Irma blocking both exits to my street and leaving us without power for eight days? Nothing. I practiced by powering my writer from my Toyota until I could get to the library and ration internet. But what was I to do for the final? It was going to be after library hours. My mom lived an hour east, but her power had been restored for the past two days. I loaded my trusty Protégé into Trixi, put on high beams, and we made the trek! I took the final and got a 95.5!
I still hit plateaus. But I know what needs to be done. Of the many things that have changed, I know that getting back to basics is key: Revisit your theory as needed, develop the muscle memory, never compare yourself, look for your drops and drill on it, break it down, (I still print it out and red pen it up), speedbuild on it, challenge yourself, get over the pity party, pop the chocolate, read it back, and keep going!
I’ve gotten massive encouragement (and a few well-needed virtual kicks in the rear) and so much support from everyone at CCR that I can’t dream of attending anywhere else. From the first idea of making a homemade stenoboard to carry with me when I don’t have my writer, through completing nine live mentor tests, to recommendations that have helped me earn scholarships, to recently finding out I passed the simulated RPR/CSR graduation requirement, this journey has been nothing short of astonishing!
What consistently draws me back are thoughts of being able to serve. Perhaps I’ll be entrusted by the Georgia Pro Bono Project to assist a client who may not have means. Maybe I’ll have the honor to take down an adventure from a military service veteran. And I know the opportunity to encourage any student as a mentor will always be crucial to the posterity of court reporting.
Never before have I felt a truer distinction between a profession and vocation. A profession is chosen; a vocation chooses you.
Let’s go FellowFingerFlyers! Focal point found! Fingers on home row! Let’s write it Right!
Kimberly S. Coltrain is a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind.