Thursday, February 02, 2006

Owed to typing teachers

Mrs. Summers stands before her class in 1969. Her short, dark hair looks more like a wig than real. More than likely half a can of hair spray has cemented it into place, including that cute miniature curl extending just off her bangs. With somber expression, she faces her students and her typewriter. To her left, a television screen shows her fingers properly positioned on the typing keyboard.

The stillness of the photo in this morning's Spokesman-Review suggests an air of complete silence and total submission to Mrs. Summers' commands. Typing is serious stuff, and demure Mrs. Summers has surely created the proper atmosphere for training those adolescent fingers to walk all over the keyboard. Then again, I'm betting Mrs. Summers has inflicted enough meticulous discipline in her class that nobody's fingers will walk anywhere until she announces they can begin.

That's how Mr. Raymond Gapp attempted to teach our typing class back in 1962-63. We'd come racing into the room, throw down our books, slip some paper into our "machines" and keep the race going with our fingers until the bell would ring and Mr. Gapp would announce in his quiet monotone, "Leave your machines alone, please." Hundreds of fingers continued their gallop across the keyboard.

"Leave your machines alone, please." The digital chatter gradually turned into sporadic tapping.

"Leave your machines alone, please," we could now hear the statement more clearly as the illegal typing before class subsided and Mr. Gapp continued looking deep into his typing manual at the front of the room, obviously plotting out the course we'd be plodding across our keyboards that particular morning.

There's not a lot to remember when one goes back to Typing I. Oh, I'm sure Mr. Gapp ran us through a multitude of drills to train our fingers to negotiate efficiently across that keyboard on our individual Royal manuals, but all I seem to remember 43 years later is the "fjf-space, fjf-space . . . " daily drill along with "leave your machines alone, please." At least that's all my conscious brain recalls, but my fingers---they're as sharp or sharper than ever as my subconcious brain directs them on their morning path every day, pecking out the route for my slightdetour postings.

During my year with Ray Gapp, who remains legendary among his SHS staff contemporaries and all students who knew him as the dry-humored guy with glasses and maybe even a glass eye, I learned the keyboard and managed to muster up enough coordination in my less-than-dextrous fingers to hit 45 words per minute during sophomore year. In some people's eyes (like my sister-in-law Joyce who does a 90 wpm keyboard dance on a slow day), that's peanuts, I'm sure.

Then, there were all those kids in Miss Thalenhorst's classes (later Mrs. Benson) who were averaging 80 words per minute, making us in the Gapp-osis sector look pretty sick. But, I didn't mind then, and I don't mind now. I never typed very fast in high school and have increased the count a bit over the years with experience, but I did learn the importance of accuracy. I also learned not to sneak peeks at the keys and to treat that poor carriage return with more respect.

I really haven't done a lot of thinking over the years about the importance of Mr. Gapp in my life. I do, however, always love to repeat the now-legendary story about the day when Ruth Straley, the school secretary, snipped his tie right in half after past threats to quit hassling her. She took those foot-long scissors with the black handles and just snipped it off as Mr. Gapp recoiled in shock.

He had apparently leaned across her desk with some smart remark, as he'd done a time or two before. She'd had enough and decided that day was the perfect time to give Mr. Gapp an object lesson. I don't know if she ever bought him a new tie, and I often wonder what the students must've thought as he stood before their afternoon classes with his blank expression and abbreviated tie, announcing, "Leave your machines alone."

Maybe it took until today for me to fully realize the phenomenal impact Mr. Gapp really had in my life. It seemed so inconsequential at the time, but when I reflect on how I made it through all those college classes that required all those five-ten-page, typed, double-spaced papers and, later, survived that career as an English-journalism teacher and how I now enjoy my freelance writing career, I wonder how I could have ever done any of it without Mr. Gapp.

In his own way, Mr. Gapp provided me with the key ingredient to complete anything I do professionally. I always give a lot of other teachers more credit because of the somewhat intangible skills they taught, but how does any of it come to fruition without these tap-dancing fingers knowing precisely where they need to land every single split-second while on the job?

So, on this day when Mrs. Summers appears in the Spokesman as a representative for all her kind, I declare a long overdue, sincerely-felt thanks to Ray Gapp, Patty Thalenhorst Benson, Ray Holt, Myra Lewis, Johnny Nitcy and all others who---from Underwoods to Dells---have trained so many million fingers to do the right thing while maneuvering across the keyboard.

By the way, my husband Bill just piped up and says he extends similar thanks to Alice Burgess of Louisiana's Oakdale High who tolerated his occasional glance at the keyboard to relocate the home keys. In essence, this blanket thank-you is definitely owed to all typing teachers. I'm sure the owners of billions of well-trained fingers concur.

Now, Mr. Gapp, I'll leave my machine alone.


Word Tosser said...

Mrs. West in Newport Rhode Island
who had us typing....
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country....

Anonymous said...

Gapp sold you short...Ms. Plastino got someone I know well to peak at 120 wpm, and he still does more than a hundred...

Toni said... Dad used to say that sentence has every letter of the alphabet. I never checked it out.

Typing is one subject I took in high school that I use to this day! I started out of school as a stenographer at the NP Railway. I don't think many days have gone by that I haven't used a typewriter of one kind or another, typing up recipe cards and letters with my old Royal to my now sleek, black Dell keyboard.
When I worked, back in 62-75 we had manual carriages and a ribbon you had to change. Oh, those were the days!!