School Days

Several school districts have already started the 2009-10 school year. The stores have had big displays of school supplies and it’s not uncommon to see parents and children clutching lists of all the things the children are expected to take to school.

In thinking about this, I got to remembering my school days. We never had such long lists of school supplies back then. In elementary school we had to buy a particular kind of looseleaf notebook which was basically two covers with rings in them and a special size paper to fit it. But that’s about all I can remember as being required.

In high school, I had to buy steno notebooks for my shorthand class. Do they still teach shorthand in school? I don’t remember seeing any steno notebooks in those stacks of school supplies. Maybe if I went to Office Max or some place like that I could find one.

I found shorthand to be a very useful skill. I used it in college to take notes in my classes. Transcribing my notes was a good way to review the class material.  In the work place I used it when I took dictation from my bosses. Nowadays I doubt any manager dictates to a secretary. Seems like every manager has a computer of his own and is expected to do his own email.

I remember typing class too. We learned to touch type on standard or manual typewriters. Do they teach typing these days? If they do, I’m sure it’s called keyboarding or something like that. When I use the computer lab at the library, I see very few people who touch type on the keyboard. Most use the hunt and peck system. I was there Thursday and there was a woman in the lab who looked to be about my age or a bit younger. I bet she learned to type on a manual because you could hear her really pounding the keys on the computer.

An interesting statistic I remember from my youth was that if you replaced a secretary’s manual typewriter with an electric one and nothing else changed in her life, she would gain ten pounds in a year due to the lesser effort she had to expend to type.

In shorthand class, the goal was to be able to take dictation at 120 wpm. This is about the average spead of most speakers. To help us achieve that, some of us would rule our notebook pages into three or even four columns instead of the standard two which were pre-printed. This was because you saved time and motion if you wrote across a narrower column.

Shorthand was useful at the office for more than just dictation. When I had to take long phone messages, I wrote them in shorthand. I remember one boss who had started his career as a secretary who delighted in writing instructions on papers to me in shorthand. But the joke was on him — I could read his shorthand! Evidently, the secretary before me couldn’t. If he was giving me a hard time (I had multiple bosses in that job), I’d write his phone messages in shorthand. Usually he could read them but if I used a brief form that he didn’t have when he learned to write shortland, he’d have to come ask me.

What kind of memories do you have of your school days?  How did you use the skills you learned when you started your career?

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