Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Sun, 23 May 1993
Well, I've been walking the darkened streets again, thinking about OBE, job training v. education, liberal arts v. professional programs, etc. I guess it's that time of the year when such things are on everyone's minds as graduates leave the stage with a diploma in one hand and want ads in the other.
Well, I hadn't rounded the first corner when into my head popped, "It's all in the wrist, people. It's all in the wrist," and my thoughts began to center on diminutive, buxom Miss Helen Trombly. She had been my typing/shorthand teacher in high school way back in 1956. I'd like to tell you about her because I think she is worth knowing about.
She was quite a lady though no one appreciated her at the time. I certainly didn't. She didn't cut a striking figure. She didn't light up a room when she entered. She was quiet and unassuming, maybe a touch shy. I can't say she carried herself with a dignity. If anything, she was bland. She wore her graying hair up in a bun. Her clothing was drab. When her reading glasses weren't hanging around her neck and resting on her chest, held there by a frayed black string, they sat half-way down her nose. I can still see her eyes peering over those black frames and saying firmly but warmly over and over and over again as we struggled with banging on the typewriter and writing those surrealistic short-hand lines with our pencils, "It's all in the wrist. It's all in the wrist."
She was a lonely figure. We kids made cruel jokes about her. We didn't take either her or the course seriously. Why should we? This was secretarial administration. It was a subject that we college-bound kids were told by other teachers was "crib," "below" us, and only for the "girl rocks" who were going into the work force after graduating high school. The only reason we were there was because it was, along with shop and home economics (I took a class in cooking and made biscuits that the navy still uses as anchors), one of those "snap" lowly fill-in electives. Yet, in reflection over the years, that course turned out to be one of the most interesting and influential courses I ever took.
Miss Trombly was not content with teaching us merely to learn how to type and take shorthand. As I look back, I think she was more interested in preparing us for life than for a life of typing and taking shorthand. There were no mindless Gregg typing or shorthand manuals to be found in the class. No charts of either the keyboard or the shorthand symbols hung on the walls. Instead, the walls were so draped with hand-printed quotations that they looked like pages from Bartletts. She changed them every week. There were no dull repetition drills. She expected us to learn on our own outside of class how to set our fingers on the typewriter and learn the keyboard and learn the shorthand symbols, "squiggle stuff" as she called them.
In class, to sharpen our typing and shorthand skills, so she said, we copied bits and pieces she had selected from Hemingway, Greene, Faulkner, Rand and a few others! With about fifteen minutes left in the one hour class, she would stop us and ask what we felt about the passages we had typed. "Be a thinking person," she'd quietly admonish us if we hesitated, "not a living typewriter." To practice our margin and tab skills on the typewriter, we copied passages from Shakespeare, Pope, Keats, Death of a Salesman, The Glass Menagerie, The Cherry Orchard, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and a few other plays. And then, she'd ask us how we felt about the passages. "There's more to life than being a secretary," she'd warn us. To develop our shorthand speed and typing dictation speed, half the class formally debated issues while the other half struggled to record it. And we had to come in prepared to debate! As I remember, we discussed civil rights and racism, sex, communism, religion, democracy, etc. This was a secretarial administration class, but she would not allow us merely "to get by." I can still hear her firm, caring, melodious voice reaching out and saying, "Louis, is that really the best you can do?" or "Where's your pride in what you're doing, Schmier?" "Be honest, Louis." or "Stop being scared, Mr. Schmier. Think for yourself."
Miss Trombly had been shunned and even ridiculed by the other teachers, even the ones in home economics and shop. No one ever or would ever have thought to nominate her for the school teacher of the year award. I certainly would not have. Hell, that was supposed to be a breeze, not a debating-English-philosophy-history-and-God-knows-what-else course, the grade for which we had to work! And I haven't said a thing about her tests, mind-challenging "evaluations" and "opportunity experiences" she labelled them. No, no nominations then. After class was over, I don't think I ever said a word to her. I am truly sorry about that and wish I could apologize. It was my loss. I don't know about the others, but I learned a hell of a lot more than typing and shorthand, though it took me decades to realize and appreciate that I did. Accolades to her today.
It wasn't until a few years ago, that I unexpectedly thought about that ......... (I won't tell you what we called her at the time). Oh, I had written the books and articles, and made my professional reputation, and I had a reputation of being a crack teacher, but something was missing. I felt off-balance, for the scholarship, that damn publish or perish garbage, had come at the expense of the classroom. I was a good teacher, really good, but deep down I felt that I could be so much better and do so much more for students. Then, Miss Trombly started haunting me again and showing me the way: "It's all in the wrist, people. It's all in the wrist."
I think a lot about Miss Trombly. I wish I could thank her. She helped show me that the true teacher must be far more student oriented than subject oriented, that the true assessment of a class or curriculum or major is far more the character of the people who leave it than the content presented in it, and that my dedication to helping the students broadly prepare for life is a far, far better thing I do for them and me than merely training them for a job. "It's all in the wrist, people. It's all in the wrist."
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____