Promoting the profession by teaching A to Z

By Beth Cicero, CSR, RPR

When I heard about NCRA’s A to ZTM Intro to Machine Shorthand Program, I was immediately intrigued.  What a great idea! Let people actually put their hands on a machine and try it out before investing time and money in equipment and school. Their only cost will be a short investment of their time — time within which they may find the career of a lifetime!  

Elena Kohina,
Proud graduate of
A to ZTM Intro to
Machine Shorthand

We all know the dropout rate is high in court reporting school. Historically, about 10 percent of those who enroll actually succeed. I always tell people, it’s a skill you either can or cannot do. Like some people can carry a tune and others can’t. But you don’t know until you try.

NCRA’s A to ZTM Program is the perfect way to find students most likely to succeed.

I’ve never taught anything before, but the handbook and support supplied by NCRA made it as easy as following a well-laid-out map. Just add your knowledge, writing skills, and enthusiasm for the profession.

I had a lot of help in putting a program together from my fellow reporters, many of whom donated old machines and who volunteered their time to assist during the sessions.

Finding a place to hold the program can be a challenge. Fortunately, I found the support I needed from Jane Sackheim, president of Diamond Reporting. She offered space in their Staten Island office right across the street from Richmond County Supreme Court, where I am an official. Lori Carannante, a freelance reporter with Diamond, stayed each night we were in session to keep the office open for us and graciously supplied our participants with refreshments and shared her experience in the freelance field with our prospective students.

I’ve led three A to Z programs, out of which I’ve only had three participants whose spark was immediately lit and who have enrolled in school. That doesn’t sound like much, but given the high dropout rate, it’s on point because I am sure those three students will excel and succeed. That’s three more reporters and three more people who have now found their niche in life with a rewarding and exciting career.

I know there are other dedicated professionals who volunteer their time in this and many other ways. It’s that kind of dedication and teamwork that promotes and protects our future.

Where the rubber hits the road

By Tami Keenan

All roads about awareness of the court reporting and captioning profession, attracting students to programs, and qualifying prospects for those programs start with the NCRA A to Z ™ Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program.

Participants get a feel for the keyboard in an NCRA A to Z program held in Austin, Texas.

The stenographic professions of court reporting and captioning are facing challenges. Not only are reporters and court reporting firms turning away jobs, but the shortage has given rise to other challenges as the nature of the market dictates that gaps must be filled. Alternative methods of capturing the record, popular culture expectations, and changing requirements from the court reporting and captioning client bases have all given rise to further challenge the notion that stenographic court reporting and captioning not only is the standard in capturing the record, but that it is a viable career opportunity.

Leaders and participants are all smiles in Houston, Texas.

Enter the NCRA A to Z™ Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program. Launched in 2017, the program has disrupted the way NCRA and its members have introduced the profession to the public at large. Where once most people learned about the profession by stumbling upon it accidentally or by watching a family member or friend practice on their machine, now this program provides a real means to get the word out, one that at once serves as a conversation starter, a profession “qualifier,” an opportunity for stenographers to pay it forward, and a way to get the stenographic professions out into the public eye.

Meeting the challenge at its source

A Denton, Texas, program led people to consider court reporting as a career choice.

The conversations among seasoned reporters at NCRA events, at state association meetings, at the NCRA Industry Leaders Roundtable, and in grassroots groups around the country have explored every probable cause for the current shortage. Some point to financial challenges of prospective students; others reference fears that there is no income potential or growth. Still others point to court reporting programs simply being too challenging.

The most common thread within all of these discussions, from freelance reporters to firm owners and other companies and organizations with a stake in stenographic reporting and captioning, is that while programs like scholarships and grants help students who are already committed to the profession, the shortage issue at its core is about the numbers of students enrolling and completing programs. The good news is: This challenge can be addressed by increasing awareness about the viability of the profession and greatly increasing the number of qualified students entering court reporting programs.

Why it works

Participants in a Mobile, Ala., were intrigued by the steno machine.

The NCRA A to Z™ program is the tool that’s meeting the challenge head on, as it most critically addresses the concern about the number of students entering court reporting education programs. Just by the nature of the program itself getting press and being a tool that volunteer members can use to do outreach, the numbers of prospective stenographic reporters and captioners could rise. The program platform, whether on the ground or online, is a perfect forum for program leaders to inform the public why they love their careers and what the profession has done for them. It’s an inside, behind-the-scenes look at the profession and an opportunity to understand the importance of what court reporters do, the integrity of the human component in capturing the record, and — most importantly — the viability of stenography as a career choice.

A to Z leaders Debbie Amos Isbell, RDR, CRR, CRC, Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Cindy Greene, RPR.

And that’s just the beginning. From there, the hands-on opportunity to get acquainted with the machine is invaluable. It provides the means for an individual to test out their potential skills, connect with the machine, and make a fully informed decision about entering a formal program to kick off their career.

Close to 1,000 prospective reporters have participated in a program lead by volunteers on the ground or through the online version that launched one year ago. With the passing of each month that number increases sharply.

What’s next

With the backing of the National Court Reporters Foundation, NCRA A to Z™ program managers are now leading an initiative to expand the program formally into high schools. By the time this article is published, the first pilot program will have launched in Texas with 15 high school students. With each high school program launch comes press coverage. With each story in the media, public awareness grows. From there, the road ahead for the advancement of the profession looks long and promising.

Meet some of the program leaders

Allison Hall, RMR, CRR

Allison Hall, RMR, CRR

NCRA member Allison Hall, RMR, CRR, an official court reporter from Bristow, Okla., said she was motivated to volunteer to lead an NCRA A to Z™ program because of her interest in giving back to the profession and because of the shortage of court reporters not only in her state but also nationwide.

A court reporter since 1999, Hall said she has co-led one program along with fellow Tulsa County court reporter Gary Woodson. She said the greatest benefit of the program from a leader’s perspective is the ability to share the love of the steno machine and the profession with interested potential students.

“The ability for a participant to get a real feel for whether or not court reporting is for them by learning the keys of the steno machine before purchasing equipment and enrolling in school” is the greatest benefit of the program she sees for those who participate in it as students.

“That glint that you see in their eyes when they truly understand and have grasped a concept definitely makes the volunteer hours worth it,” she added.

Hall said that she often grabs interns at the courthouse where she works, as well as the sons and daughters of friends and people she meets to preach about the benefits of pursuing a career in court reporting or captioning.

“Teaching an A to Z course is what jump-started my passion for teaching and the need for a local school in Tulsa. I became invested in a few of the A to Z participants, and I could really see the potential in them. At the time, we had no school in Tulsa that they could enroll in. After getting the support of my judge, I offered to hold an ‘apprentice class’ in my courtroom once a week for those interested,” Hall said.

“When I began the program at Tulsa Community College and began teaching part-time, our classes turned into one evening a month. My two students who I taught A to Z, theory, and speedbuilding are now at 180 and 160 wpm and have both interned with me in the courtroom. In addition, I mentor several students. I strongly encourage everyone to teach an A to Z program. Teaching is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done in my career,” she added.

Debbie Amos Isbell, RDR, CRR, CRC

Debbie Amos Isbell,
RDR, CRR, CRC

NCRA member and 38-year veteran of working as a freelance court reporter, Debbie Amos Isbell, RDR, CRR, CRC, from Mobile, Ala., said the A to Z program offers her an opportunity to share the many aspects of the profession she loves with those interested in learning more about it.

“I have led two A to Z classes and continue to act as a liaison by encouraging people to enroll in the online program and lending them machines,” she said. “Meeting interested participants was a joy, but the greatest reward for me was the camaraderie experienced with my fellow colleagues who were very willing to help with the program,” Isbell added.

Isbell said she often speaks about the A to Z program at work and when she participates in school career days. She said she also keeps in touch with several of the participants from the programs she led who are currently enrolled in court reporting school and hopes to have the opportunity to mentor them when the time comes.

Tami Morse, RPR

Tami Morse, RPR

“I love this career! It has been a great career to me!” said NCRA member Tami Morse, RPR, an official court reporter from Sand Springs, Okla., who has been in the profession for 40 years.

“I am at the age that in a couple of years I will be retiring. I wanted to be sure that there were those trained to take my place so that the court reporting career will continue for years to come. The best way I could do this was by educating people and showing them all about this career,” she said when asked what motived her to volunteer to lead four NCRA A to Z programs.

Seeing the students’ eyes as they write words and begin to make sense of the keyboard, she said, is one of the greatest benefits of leading a program from her perspective, and from a participant’s perspective it is exciting for them to recognize how challenging and yet rewarding and fun writing on the steno machine can be.

To encourage others to step up and volunteer as NCRA A to Z leaders, Morse said: “It’s not hard! There’s no ‘homework.’ You just teach what you already know. The materials actually teach the program. It doesn’t take an extreme amount of time, and the rewards are endless, especially when you see your students excelling in a program afterwards.”

Morse emphasized that the program teaches itself, is very well-written, and provides students with just enough to “whet their whistle” regarding the court reporting and captioning professions.

Tami Keenan, FAPR, RPR, CPE, (Ret.), is chair of the National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) Board of Trustees. She can be reached at tamisteno@att.net.

PohlmanUSA Offering Free Six-Week Court Reporting Introductory Course

In a press release issued July 17, PohlmanUSA, based in St. Louis, Mo., announced that the firm will be holding an NCRA A to Z™ Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program to help potential students to learn more about court reporting and gain the necessary skills to succeed in the profession.

Read more.

NCRA A to Z Program offered in Oklahoma

Tulsa World reported on Sept. 30 that the Oklahoma Court Reporters Association is holding a free NCRA A TO ZTM Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program beginning Oct. 8.

Read more.








DMACC professor installed as director of National Court Reporters Association

The Newton Daily News reported on Sept. 25 that Cathy Penniston, RPR, CRI, an instructor in the Realtime Court Reporting program at the Des Moines Area Community College Newton Campus, Newton, Iowa, was recently chosen to serve a two-year term on NCRA’s Board of Directors.

Read more.








NCRA member recognized by International Association of Women

​​The International Association of Women announced in a press release issued Sept. 25 that the organization has recognized NCRA member Jennifer Schuck, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, as a 2018-2019 Influencer.

Read more.








Setting goals

By Kay Moody

portrait of the author

Kay Moody

Setting realistic, tangible goals is an essential element of completing court reporting school and developing the speed and accuracy needed to work as a reporter. When you take timed writings and read your notes, identify your weaknesses. Once you know the major reason you’re not progressing, set a goal to eliminate the problem(s) and work on them every day for five, ten, or fifteen minutes. Work on the same goal until it’s no longer a weakness. Work on drills and dictation takes until the weakness no longer exists. This article lists the five major reasons students do not progress and ways to eliminate or correct these hindrances: lagging behind and dropping words; messy notes; hesitating or missing briefs, phrases, and/or conflicts; difficult outlines or unfamiliar vocabulary; and not finding enough time to practice.

Goal of eliminating drops

When you work on speedbuilding, don’t make corrections with the asterisk (*). Leave the misstroke in your notes. Write the entire take, read back your notes, and count how many words you dropped, not the misstrokes. Take the same selection two or three times a day and focus on one thing: staying with the dictation and writing every word. Read back each take, and count the drops to make sure that you have fewer and fewer drops on each take. Continue taking the selection two or three times every day until you write the entire selection with no drops. Once you accomplish this, go on to another selection at the same speed. After you can write your goal speed repeatedly with no drops, go to a higher speed.

Please note that working on speed is different from working on accuracy for realtime, perfect translation. That is why you are discouraged from making corrections while working on speed.

Goal of writing clean notes

Drop down to a lower speed and write with the goal that 99 percent of your outlines will be perfect. Write slower dictation from something you recorded, and count all your misstrokes. Drill on writing the correct outlines for all misstroked words, repeat the selection, and use the same technique described for eliminating drops.

An excellent way to clean notes is to work from straight copy. Write an article from your textbook or the newspaper and write it at your natural speed without a single misstroke.

Goal of learning briefs, phrases, and conflicts

Instead of saying, “I’m going to learn all of the briefs in my brief book,” set an attainable, measurable goal. “I’m going to review briefs every day, and I’m going to go over one column (or 25 outlines) every day for ten or fifteen minutes until I can automatically write every outline.” This is an easily attainable goal.  When you’ve mastered that group with perfect outlines, tackle a new list or column.

Goal of being able to write difficult words and outlines

Similar to learning briefs, phrases, and conflicts, every time you hear a difficult outline or a word you’ve forgotten how to write, jot it on a sticky note, and write that word with its shorthand outline in your notebook. Practice a column from this list for five, ten, or fifteen minutes every day. This is an ongoing goal and something you’re encouraged to do throughout your court reporting skill development.

Goal of practicing more

Prepare a time management schedule, and make sure you have allowed sufficient time for practice. Establish time to work on word lists, steno outlines, drills, and other skill- and speedbuilding activities. Make a checklist, and check off all the activities that you accomplish each day. You must be disciplined! Identify your short-term, daily goals and work on them at specific times every day, at least six days a week.

To summarize the elements of goal setting:

  • Set a goal every time you sit at your machine, whether it is in class or a short practice session.
  • Develop goals that eliminate weaknesses, that develop strengths, and that are small.
  • Create goals that are positive, measurable, and specific.
  • Reward yourself when you succeed in reaching a goal.

Kay Moody, MCRI, CPE, is an instructor for the College of Court Reporting based in Valparaiso, Ind.

 








South Suburban College to hold court reporting open house

The Illinois Patch.com posted an announcement on July 10 about an open house being hosted July 26 by the court reporting program at the South Suburban College.

Read more.








What a room full of girls taught me about the profession

Merilee Johnson

By Merilee Johnson

As I looked out at the expectant, inquisitive eyes of a room full of 8- to 12-year-old girls, I came to the realization this was going to be a challenge more difficult than I had anticipated. Presenting to professional colleagues can be intimidating enough, but what could I offer these young minds whose only image of a court reporter (if they had one at all) is of a person sitting to the side of the action, “typing” quietly in the corner?

What I had envisioned as a breezy conversation (accepted on a whim) changed in focus to promoting and recruiting for the future of our profession. I needed to both capture their attention and convey that reporting is an empowering and fulfilling career. If I can’t impart that message here and now, how can we bring young people into the industry?

And how did I find myself in this position? About a month prior, a friend asked me to participate in their church’s career month, an admirable effort on their part to present the congregation’s youth girls firsthand experience with possible career paths. I’d accepted immediately as I thought of it as more of a personal favor to a friend, filling a time slot they needed filled. It was only when I walked in the church doors on that fateful Wednesday night that the broader implications became clear.

As I stood in front of these earnest eyes, I realized I needed to scrap the PowerPoint, scrap any facts and figures about the shortage we’re facing and how much reporters can make, and took a chance at speaking their language. I start the presentation with, “Raise your hand if you like creating worlds in Minecraft. How about learning another language? Who likes to play an instrument? Who likes hearing or reading stories? Who likes to learn, without having to do homework?”

Hands flung in the air with a level of enthusiasm only achievable by a group of young girls, and I shared with them that these are very much like the things I get to enjoy every day as a court reporter and captioner.

I explained that I knew a second language called “shorthand theory” and felt them lean in as I pulled out my writer. As I started writing, I showed them how I was pressing multiple keys at once, like you would a chord on a piano. I told them that I’d written a code, like you do in Minecraft, that allows my computer to translate those chords into English. As the words appeared on the screen, an audible “Whoa” could be heard. One nine-year-old exclaimed with her voice (and motioning with her hands), “You. Are. Awesome!” (which, of course, I captioned).

Having captured their attention, the obvious next step was to let them fall in love with reporting the same way the rest of us did. I invited them to come up and (carefully) put their hands on the writer and let the writer work its magic. Quickly, the concept of “carefully” was out the door as their curious faces huddled around the writer and they energetically started to push the keys. Like many of us, the moment their hands touched the writer, they had an unparalleled desire to learn how to write on it.

So, one by one, I taught each girl how to steno their own names, which elevated the thrill as they saw their names up on the projected screen. One girl’s misstroke produced the word “poop,” which, if they weren’t already in an excited frenzy, pushed them over the top and resulted in peals of laughter. It served as a reminder that in the quest to capture the attention of youth, the high road isn’t the only path. I used it as a teaching moment to let them know that even the best writers have mistrans, and that’s okay!

We wrapped up the session, and the girls reluctantly allowed me to pack up my equipment. As I did, I reflected on the fact that our profession is intrinsically interesting and, if properly communicated, can easily capture the enthusiasm of young people. Walking out the doors, I took with me a strong sense of optimism for the future of reporting and additional pride that these girls had given me. They reminded me that we can smile at our mistakes and even on our “poopy” days, what we get to do every day “is awesome.”

Merilee S. Johnson, RDR, CRR, CRC, who has also earned NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certificate, is a captioner base in Eden Prairie, Minn. She can be reached at msjreporter@outlook.com.

 








PROMOTING THE PROFESSION: Passion for captioning and court reporting showcased at high school career day

Cindi Lynch

Earlier this spring, Cindi Lynch, training program manager for Stenograph, based in Elmhurst Ill., and Sharon Vartanian, RPR, a district sales manager for the company, spent a few hours promoting the captioning and court reporting professions at a career day held at Prospect High School in Saratoga. Calif. Lynch, who is well-known for her enthusiasm for the court reporting profession, has a sister-in-law who teaches English at the high school. She passed along Lynch’s information to one of the school’s career specialists. Lynch was asked if she would give a presentation to a group of their students, and she readily accepted. Vartanian, who represents Stenograph in the area, and Lynch also enlisted the help of NCRA member Maggie Ortiz, manager of the court reporting program at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., and Tobi Giluso, a high-speed student from the program.

Sharon Vartanian

 

JCR | What did you do to prepare?

SV | Cindi put the word out on social media and spoke with people working with the A to Z program and with Project Steno to get their input on similar presentations they had done in the past. Cindi took that information and then put together a brief presentation based on the information she had gathered.

CL | Sharon thought it would be a great idea if we asked the court reporting program at the local college to also participate in the presentation, and she took on the task of gathering representatives from West Valley College to join us.

 

JCR | What was the event like?

SV | Cindi’s presentation focused on what a court reporter is, where and how reporters, captioners and CART providers work, and the basic principles of machine shorthand.

Tobi captioned the presentation. She did an excellent job, and the high school students were able to see firsthand the skills of a reporter/captioner. (Tobi has passed all her qualifiers and will be taking the state exam this July.)

Maggie Ortiz, court reporting program manager, talked about West Valley College’s specific program and gave current information about earning potential in the local area. In 2017, West Valley also started offering a free court reporting course through Silicon Valley Adult Education. Maggie explained how the high school students could immediately take advantage of this free course before graduating high school to learn the theory of steno writing. The course is designed to give students a head start in the West Valley court reporting program.

There was a small, but very interested, group of juniors and seniors in attendance, as well as parents, teachers, and teacher aides. We were pleased that we had a wide range of panelists to answer questions during the Q&A session. Maggie addressed school questions, Tobi answered student and CART questions, and Sharon was able to address working as a freelance court reporter.

 

JCR | How did it go? Did people seem interested?

CL | We were really pleased with the presentation and how warmly it was received. Both the students and the adults were very interested. We were asked a lot of thoughtful, smart questions and it was clear to us that they had paid close attention to the information they’d been given.

We brought a few Luminex writers with us. At the end of the presentation, the students eagerly waited in line to have their first experience of writing on a steno machine.

 

JCR | You are both such professionals, you’re probably prepared for anything. But did anything surprise you? Can you tell us about that?

CL and SV | No surprises. We put a lot of effort into being well prepared. We were delighted we had male and female attendees.

One person we had consulted while preparing for the presentation advised us to bring food, especially candy for the kids. We rewarded the attendees for asking questions by giving them candy bars. While we know rewarding for candy works, we were amazed at how well it works.

 

JCR | What advice would you give others about telling people about careers in court reporting and captioning?

CL and SV | Show your passion for the profession; it’s infectious. The attendees appreciated the fact that all of us who spoke at the event had been around the profession most of our lives and were excited to talk about it. When you love what you do, it definitely comes through. Convey how much support they can expect from the court reporting community. Communicate how much we need them and want them to join us in this fabulous career.

 

JCR | Is there anything else you would like to share?

CL and SV | We were well-received by the teachers and career specialist at Prospect High, and they expressed an interest in having us come back in the future to talk to additional students. They also asked for more information from Maggie so that they could partner with West Valley College. This made us very happy. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome from our presentation!

 

Cindi Lynch can be reached at CLynch@Stenograph.com. Sharon Vartanian can be reached at SVartanian@Stenograph.com.