on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

Words by Joe Strickland, RPR, CRR, Deputy Chief Reporter, U.S. House of Representatives and All-Around Nice Guy

Congratulations, You've Succeeded ... now Fail!

The Agony of the "Good Student"


Some years back, I ran across this interesting article that spoke of the harsh realities of the testing court reporting students everywhere go through. I had bookmarked the page, but alas, that website was eaten by ... well, whatever it is that eats old websites.

I mentioned the gist of the article to Marc "Simply Steno" Greenberg, and he not only remembered the article, he also remembered the author, who was also on Facebook!

Needless to say, I contacted Joe Strickland and asked if I could reprint his article on Cheap and Sleazy, and he said I could!

This one is for all those CR students who have had to endure The Interrogation from their friends and/or relatives.

When they ask next time, send them here -- preferably before you opt for what's behind Door Numba Two. Yes, that's right ... I'm talking about The Strangulation Equation.

For those of you who haven't had your morning coffee today, the Strangulation Equation is basically when you run through the possible ramifications of strangling that loved one that put you through The Interrogation.

What? You haven't experienced "The Interrogation?" Basically, it goes like this: You're at a party, seeing a friend or relative at the store, or even at home ... and then the inevitable happens, and they ask about your schooling, like so:

"Aren't you done with school yet?" "Did you fail another test today?" "What's taking so long? It's just typing, for God's sake."

Is your blood starting to boil? Steam coming out of your ears? Maybe you're feeling a warmth on your cheeks from the slowly forming tears?

If so, then you have experienced "The Interrogation."

Hopefully this article will take the sting away ... but if not, run through The Strangulation Equation one more time -- just in case.





I gotta tell you guys, I never considered myself a poor student. I always enjoyed school. In fact, I was kind of an obnoxious student. I always added cutout pictures and drawings to my book reports (Didn't you HATE that guy in class?!) I actually enjoyed writing term papers. The process of researching a topic and spending hours in the library was actually enjoyable to me. I even relished the process of adding footnotes to a paper. (In the days of the manual typewriter preparing footnotes was something akin to disarming a bomb blindfolded. Roll the carriage 1/2 space to create the superscript number. Roll the carriage down to the bottom of the page and lightly mark a footnote space holder with a pencil. Type. Type. Type. Repeat process. You get the idea. Thank you, Bill Gates, for PC-based bibliography software!)

Yeah, I'll admit it...I was a nerd. A Grade A, No. 1, crummy-in-P.E. nerd. I even had the black-frame, Coke-bottle-bottom glasses. I was a "Good Student." But what could I do? I was intrigued by learning. It allowed me to compensate for my feelings of shortcoming in other areas, like sports, like social graces, like spitting (didn't you have spitting contests in Junior High...oops), like being a "Good Boy." (Capital G, capital B) In the family that I was sprung from, you just didn't mouth off to the teacher, or utter vulgarities (in public anyway,) or expel gas on command for the amusement of your classmates. But what I could do was get good grades, so I grabbed onto that ray of sunshine and hung on all the way through high school and college.

School was structured in such a way that when a promising, interested, half-bright "Good Student" ambled off the lunch court, the teacher was so thrilled that he wasn't wasting his life baby-sitting nimrods that he would show that student extra attention, heap praise, reward, and sometimes even challenge and inspire. It was a heady experience for a misfit toy of a guy and I clung to that positive feedback. Indeed, I flourished in that educational environment and found myself and defined myself through THOSE accomplishments. (It didn't hurt that my folks were both BIG on education and it kept them off my back too.)

Ah, positive feedback. The reward of the successful student. The "Good Student."

FLASH FORWARD: I'm sitting in the Recruiter's office at court reporting school. Mid-30's (my age, not the Recruiter's) and in search of a second career after having finished college and spent 10 years running my own small business. New challenges, that's what this Good Student was in search of. More money, that's what this Good Student craved. So back to school I went, and here I sat listening to the Recruiter entice me with his Texas drawl, "Our program takes the average student about 2 years, but for a clever, Good Student, it's about eighteen months."

All I heard was "Good Student," and "eighteen months." I swear, he was explaining real-time theory and hands-on computer training and job placement assistance, and all I heard was "Good Student" and "Eighteen months." In the car driving home I was calculating how I could afford to live off the proceeds of the sale of my business for 18 months and then immediately begin reporting and dragging in the big bucks. Man, this is too easy. Man, what a deal.

Man, was I wrong.

Nobody, including that Recruiter, explained to me that everything I had ever believed about school was about to be turned on its head. For the first time in my life I was about to begin an educational process based on the premise that once you succeed, rather than rewarding that success, they're going to push you further until you're failing again. It reminds me of an off-Broadway show called "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," only this technique was called, "Congratulations, You've Succeeded...Now Fail."

I sailed through Theory 101. (Doesn't everybody? Oh, well, that girl who raised her hand during the Theory teacher's explanation of long and short vowels and asked, "Excuse me, but what's a vowel"...she had a bit of a problem.) But then came Speedbuilding class. I'd practice and practice. (Say, didn't they say if you played the piano it helped?) I'd finally eke out a passing grade at one speed, and instead of the warm, tingling feeling of accomplishment and laurel-resting, they'd push me out the door, down the hall to the next class, only at a faster speed. Hey, who designed this course?

Okay, okay. I'll make up a few more briefs and that will save me enough strokes to be able to pass the next speed level, while still writing at the previous speed. You know what? It worked for a while. But once I got to about 140 words a minute I realized that it was impossible to write, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the case you are hearing today involves driving while under the influence of alcohol" in one stroke. Believe me. Don't try it. It did. (E-mail me and I'll share that brief with you -- you never know.)

It was NOT thrilling to be a former "Good Student" sitting in a speedbuilding class and watching the 20-somethings zip past me like car pool vans in the HOV lane. I gave it my best. After all, I was off schedule, having spent a wee bit too long in the 160 class. Oh, that's okay, I'll make it up in my 180s. Wrong. It was during my 180 struggle that our school was fortunate enough to acquire a new Academic Dean. He was a genuine, A-1 All-Star of the court reporting profession, Dr. Bill Oliver, Past President of NSRA (NCRA's previous moniker before they dropped the "shorthand" in the title.) Bill immediately became a great friend, confidant and mentor. He also became the bane of my existence. He changed the requirements that were necessary for students to pass from one class to the next. No longer could we accumulate our passed tests one at a time with passing scores of 95 percent. Now we were required to pass our Lit, Jury Charge and Q&A in one test at the required class speeds in one sitting, just like the RPR. Just to make life more unbearable, Bill upped the passing-grade requirement to 98 percent.

So, six months later I'm still reporting to the 180 class on a daily basis, realizing that perhaps I ought to move a few pieces of furniture into the classroom and hang a few paintings on the wall. I'm going to be here for a while. Oh, and the 18-month self-imposed deadline? That's now history. The finances began to get tough. I decided I better get a night job, so I began bartending at the Hyatt Regency. Yeah, THAT was a great idea. Try slopping drinks until 2 a.m. and then performing well on a speed test the next morning. It was at about that point that I began saying to myself more than once a day, "What have I gotten myself into?" I've chosen to train for a profession that I'm incapable of doing, but now I'm running out of money, and have no visible means of making a living. I should have listened to Carlton Sheets and done that "No Money Down" real estate thing. Or what was that infomercial about placing small classified ads? How did that work? Oy."

I'm sure you're all saying, "What is the point of this endless saga? Where are we going here?"

Well, I'm writing this as a working, professional reporter who pays his mortgage and most of his credit card bills (really, I'll send the check tomorrow,) by dint of reporting skill and competence that I actually, eventually acquired. Yes, I finally did pass those back-to-back tests at 98 percent. And you know what, I'm glad Oliver raised the bar, because it made me a better reporter. I realize now that if I return from a 7-hour job and translate 200 pages and only get 95 percent of the words spoken, I'm leaving out 10 pages of spoken testimony. I wouldn't want to be the reporter that has to explain to my client why 10 pages was missing from the deposition or hearing transcript. ("Well, you see, sir, I'm expected to capture only 95 percent of what you say.")

I was NOT one of those "naturals" for whom stenography seemed to be inbred from the womb. (Who ARE those people anyway, and don't you hate them? What, did their pregnant mothers listen to Ed Varallo tapes or something?) I used to say that I felt like a pirate being prodded down the plank and the only way to go was overboard. I'd walked the plank and my financial situation was sawing it off behind me, forcing me to go forward. I admit that if I'd had any options, I'd probably have wimped out and given up. But it's amazing what a desperate man (or woman) can accomplish. I'm sure that athletes who win gold medals at the Olympics would much rather grab a snooze on the sofa waiting for Oprah, but instead they get up and out and run when their sides hurt and bench press one more rep when their shoulders are aching. (Don't you love these analogies?)

We've chosen a stimulating, rewarding profession and it's going to educate your kids and pay off your student loans. It's going to send you on trips all over the country (maybe the world) and it's going to give you a chance to meet the President of the United States. It's going to make you a "fly on the wall" in rooms where amazing, historic events are taking place. (All of which has happened to me.) And you know what, nobody is ever going to care whether you sailed through school in 18 months, or 12 months, or whether you scratched and crawled your way out in 24 months or 36 months. All that matters is that you're good. You're competent. You're professional. You produce an accurate, on-time product and you show up on time for the next day's job.

Hang in, buck up...and relax!

From Worried Student to Writing for the President of the United States

From Worried Student to Writing for the President of the United States. Way to go, Joe!