Loose Bloggers Consortium
This is my first post as a member of the Loose Bloggers Consortium, an informal group of bloggers who post on a given topic each Friday, each one giving the same topic their own individual treatment. I wish to thank Conrad, the group Co-ordinator, who has invited me to become a member. The group consists of (in alphabetical order) Ashok, Conrad, Grannymar, Magpie 11, Maria, Marianna and Rummuser, or Ramanaji, as I call him. Members hail from places as diverse as the
Background: after I finished school, there was no possibility of higher studies for me. My family’s financial situation was such that in order to go on for higher studies, a grant of some sort would have been necessary. Although I had enough points for admission, the points required for obtaining the required grant were rather more than I had gained. In order to obtain that number of points, one would have had to be more of an all-rounder in studies than I had been. So what is a suitable career option for a school leaver with a terrific aptitude for English, arts subjects and precious little else? In my time, 1981 to be precise., there was only one really; the secretarial course.
The school where I’d rounded off my education, that is, studied and appeared for my Leaving Certicate/Senior Board Examination also had a secretarial studies section. Admission guaranteed. So it was all settled nicely, to everybody’s satisfaction. I hated it! At first, it was nothing but hard labour and brain-numbing boredom. Several hours a day was spent pounding on a manual typewriter. Several more mastering the art of reading and writing squiggles, that is, shorthand. But merely learning these esoteric skills was not enough! Because……we had to acquire speed! And the speed had to be measurable in words per minute (wpm!) This was not something to be taken lightly.
According to the teachers in the secretarial college, the minimum working speed for typing was 40 words per minute and for shorthand, 80 words per minute (wpm). However, we were urged to simply develop our skills at our own pace. The speed would come with time. We started our course in September, and we would surely have started acquiring speeds within two months. So off we went. Incidentally, I found the English classes so boring. No lovely literature to get all ecstatic over, just back to spelling and punctuation. Some of the girls from my old Leaving Certificate class, whom I would have personally judged as backward in English, enjoyed these classes a lot and found them useful. I was laughing up my sleeve at these girls.
I wasn’t laughing a lot a few months later. The very girls whom I had deemed backward in English were racing ahead by November, having already obtained working speeds in shorthand and typing. I hadn’t yet even cleared the minimum 25 wpm in typing and 50 wpm in shorthand. I was seriously worried. What was happening? The more I stressed and strained, the more difficult it became. What was wrong? My fingers clumped around the keyboard and all I can say is that if I had been learning to play the piano and not use the typewriter the music would have sounded horrible. “It’s my fingers!” I declared. “They’re too short! Too fat! Too clumsy!” Yes, that was it! I blamed my fingers. The same fingers had obviously let me down in the area of shorthand too! I longed for Yvonne Bradley’s long, nimble fingers. She’d never been up to my standard in the English Leaving Certificate classes, but now she was the star of the class, and I was the class dunce!
I acquired typing speed by sheer accident, during the school holidays. The typing teacher gave us typing assignments for the three week break. “Three hours practice per day!” she declared. For the first two weeks I idled my time away and woke up with a bang on New Years day 1982, realizing that I had only one week left to complete three week’s homework! No problem, I thought. I’ll do the assignments on the triple for a week! Hah! I’d complete it! Wrong!! A three hour typing assignment for a student with a 40 wpm speed was a six hour assignment for a girl with a 20 wpm speed. I would start typing at 6 am in the morning taking short breaks for meals. I still wasn’t anywhere near where I should have been by midnight. I really feared the teachers in the school and I was also mortified at having such a slow speed. It was really embarrassing. I nearly drove my family crazy typing non-stop for a full week from dawn to dusk (and on a manual typewriter at that!) and by the time I was ready to return to secretarial school, I had probably one third of the work left to complete.
Two pleasant surprises awaited me when I returned to school. Firstly, I was the only one in the class who had done ANY HOMEWORK AT ALL! Oh, I felt quite saintly, I must say. The second surprise was that I had acquired a reasonable speed. The teacher was delighted with me. Within a week I had acquired a certified speed of 30 wpm. I had easily acquired the working speed of 40 wpm by the time I finished the course in May. Those Christmas assignments had helped me to break through the speed wall – for typing at least!
I had also acquired the basic 50 wpm in shorthand. Still the slowest in class, I reached the 60 wpm and 70 wpm without too much difficulty. But acquiring the 80 wpm, the working speed in shorthand, was another speed wall. I must have sat for the 80 wpm test at least six times, as the course moved towards conclusion. Why was the leap from 70 wpm to 80 wpm so difficult? Maybe the barrier was psychological. And maybe it was also because in the 50 wpm, 60 wpm and 70 wpm tests one had to take dictation for only three minutes and transcribe it. But for the 80 wpm, There were TWO pieces to note down and transcribe. First a three minute piece, then one minute’s break, then a further two minutes dictation. It shouldn’t have been so difficult. But that leap became a milestone! On the very last 80 wpm test of the session, I was so nervous. I knew for a fact that many girls in my class had made it to that speed in the first half of the school year, and to have completed a full school year and not acquired the speed would have been embarrassing in the extreme. I focused my eyes completely on this goal and ignored would be distractions – and thankfully, passed out of my course with working speeds in both skills – yes, I finally passed the 80 wpm!
Ironically, the working world is totally different from school – even secretarial school. As far as I am aware, hardly any of the girls I trained with used their shorthand and typing skills at all. And in the office world, I encountered a fair number of people getting by with two finger typing (known as the Hunt and Peck method!). Secretarial work, like management, is something that is learnt on your feet rather than sitting at a school desk. But that course helped me to learn that you have to be smart and work diligently if you want to get by in the real world. I also learnt that speed is not something you have to stress and strain to acquire – concentrate on getting your skills perfect and the speed just takes care of itself!