By Antoinette Scott
I was diagnosed with Dermatomyositis, a rare auto-immune disease that attacks the major muscles and leaves one exhausted on the least exertion in 2006 although it had been undiagnosed for 2 years before that. To kill 2 birds with one stone, I decided to gain a new qualification that could allow me to work from home as well and a diversion to take my mind off my uncertain future. I settled on Creative and Media Writing with Journalism in 2008/9 at Middlesex University.
I plodded on and on whilst each year group I started with every academic year moved on and I remained doing 2 years of my part time degree for every 1 year of full time studies. In fact I have been here so long that my daughter joined me last year as a first year undergraduate. We rarely bump into each other, not deliberately though, I hasten to add.
During my time I have had several note takers, some very good, some very bad and the neither here nor there ones who made no mark one way or the other. Having gone through the whole gamut, I think I’m overly qualified to give a few pointers about what a good note taker should be like. You might well be asking what or who a note taker is and why one should care if they are good or otherwise.
Note takers are people supplied by the Student Disability Team to assist people like me by taking notes during lectures and also help with word processing when you have work to submit. Not having seen a job description for a note taker before I couldn’t tell you what the criteria for such positions are but what I can tell you is my experience of them. The ones I have had have been both the professional note takers and students at the university. Of the 2 I found the students better by far and I’ll come to this in a bit.
Some of the professionals (I had no way of knowing other than them telling me) have been very lax in their duties which as professionals they should not have been. I learnt English as a second language and as such my pronunciation of certain words can sound a bit odd especially when I am in full flow and my ideas are racing to come out. Rather than ask me to stop, you would think they would, they leave me to expend energy and use up all my lovely vocabulary and then when I’m out of puff and end on a triumphant note, they ask “can you start again?” By this time I have forgotten what I said and can’t remember how I said it and am beginning to get tired. There was also one whose notes I couldn’t understand. She had just completed her masters she noted with pride at our first meeting. I was suitably impressed to think I had landed Rolls Royce instead of a Vauxhall Corsa. However I struggled to decipher her notes. I spent many hours trying to decipher and make meaning out of the jumble of strange words. There was just no correlation between what she wrote and my memory of what was said during the lecture. The day she did not write down the reference books was the day I decided we could no longer work together.
The best note taker I had by far was Michael P or my ‘Write Hand Man‘ as I used to tease him but then he was an alumnus of Middlesex.
On the whole I have had better luck with the students especially when they were doing a similar degree to mine. Being students they are able to detect what is vital to note down during the lecture without my having to ask too often. They are also familiar with the terminologies and can spell them quite well. It is only when I have made references to people before their time that they have sometimes made mistakes ( I am after all of a certain age). Jim Reeves became Gym Rives in one piece of work but at least I understood the rest of the notes. There has been the odd unsuitable person like the one who kept finishing my sentences when I was thinking about what to say and prodding me on like I was her pet donkey. She was brilliant when it came to taking notes during lectures, wrote in a neat and legible fashion, and was punctual and quiet in class. However when we worked on a one to one she was just impossible. I could not reflect at all. She would be suggesting what to say and how to say it and it so patronising. Needless to say we soon parted on a very cool note.
On the whole I am truly grateful for the efforts of my note takers. I couldn’t have made it so far without them. The team who allocate them have helped me get to know some wonderful people. It can’t be easy to listen and simultaneously write down what another person is dictating and make sense of it but somehow they manage to do so. However a few tips will perhaps improve what they are doing from good to excellent.
It is important as a note taker to ask the client to slow down as soon as you start struggling. Remember they are speaking beyond a normal conversational rate and are unaware that it is fast, caught up as they are in the flow of speech. Also, you are not there to think for them, you are there to enable them write down what they think should be written. It is also ok to ask them to spell certain words out. Spell check is an American software and cannot recognise all the English variants. Last but not least, you are doing a great job so don’t take yourself too seriously. Take time out to smile and whenever it is I graduate, I’ll be sure to thank you my note takers for being my hands.
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