I’m a late Internet bloomer. My family’s first Internet-enabled device was a Nintendo DSi, which I used to browse the web despite the device’s measly 16 megabytes of RAM. I got my first computer during freshman year of high school, and my first smartphone when I was 16 years old. But there’s one obscure part of my technology experience that I never talk about. It’s my first semester in middle school, when I took a class called Business and Technology II. My counselor put me in the class either because I enrolled late and this was only elective with space left, or my mum secretly insisted that I be put in a computers class. I thought I can confidently scratch out the latter, so I was left with a class I didn’t want to take. And God **** it, Business and Technology II was the most important class I took during my entire academic career.
It was 1:00 PM on the first day of the class. Mr. McClain stood in front of the computer lab, lights out with a beaming projector as if we were watching a movie. A blue image reading “Eyes to the front of the Classroom please…” covered every computer screen in the room. Mr. McClain proceeded to give instructions for several in-class computer assignments we had to complete. One series of assignments involved copying a word processing document word-for-word on Microsoft Word. I was slow on typing, so the idea of having to copy a single-spaced document verbatim felt very daunting. Not only that, but I also had to make sure the document was formatted according to Mr. McClain’s specifications. “…Times New Roman, size 12, single-spaced…” Mr. McClain droned as he demonstrated by remote control on our monitors.
Highline Public Schools weren’t as serious about tech literacy as they are now. Prior to middle school, I didn’t depend on technology to get my work done. I turned in almost everything the teacher assigned by hand. Color computer printouts were a rare commodity in my elementary schools. I remember even taking a few lessons on “Cursive Without Tears.” By the time I entered 7th grade, MySpace was already dead. Facebook and Twitter began to occupy public consciousness. Windows XP became a ‘must’ to master. Cool Math Games were the only games the librarian allowed. The word processing assignment for Business and Technology II became my definitive starting point for the world of technology that would unfold before me in the next decade.
Being as slow in typing as I was, I took a good 10 days to complete the first word processing assignment. The grading for it was brutal. Mr. McClain circled, underlined, and braced every mistake I made on the printed document that resulted. I ended up getting a C for the first job. Not bad for such slow typing.
Subsequent word processing assignments became progressively difficult. In addition to the typing job, I had to include “readability statistics” at the end of every paragraph. It’s the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease and grade level metrics that nobody bothers to read nowadays. Because of the length of time it took for me to complete the first assignment, I devised strategies for completing the rest of my word processing for the quarter. I discovered Sticky Keys and used them to compensate for my lack of dexterity. I went to the public library on several occasions to make up for lost time. I pissed off Mr. McClain with my latter strategy. He told me that I can’t work on his assignments at home. Being that sneaky b**** teenager that I was, I tried to turn in my printed-at-“home” documents at the beginning of class. It took several tries before Mr. McClain finally gave in. Though I was proud of the quality of my work, I lost a whole letter grade for each of those assignments.
Mr. McClain knew better than I did. Though I became better at following the assignment directions to the letter, I didn’t master the underlying skill needed to complete them in a short amount of time. I didn’t learn that typing is a skill I needed to survive in my academics. However, the fact I only lost a whole letter grade for each assignment speaks to how much Mr. McClain appreciated the efforts I made. The hours I spent navigating software and working on the assignments in public libraries weren’t all for nothing. I did develop a good understanding of the standard keyboard layout. I just needed to practice typing.
We shifted away from word processing in the second quarter of the class. I felt encouraged by how much faster I have gotten at typing. Everyday, I showed off to my lab partner how fast I typed my student ID number to log in. We would compete every day to see who was faster. Typing was no longer a struggle for me.
By Fall 2010, I entered middle school and got placed in the Business and Technology II class. Fast-forward to 2020, where big tech boomed, schools became more tech savvy and tech-literate, and coronavirus accelerated our use and development of information technology in ways almost nobody expected. Within those 10 years, I wrote many 10-page papers, two research papers, and an Honors senior thesis. Had I not been (forcibly) placed in Business and Technology II during my first quarter in middle school, I would have struggled to accomplish all of those things. Though Mr. McClain’s ‘no take-home’ policy was a pain, it was encouraging to me that he acknowledged the hours of practice I needed to complete his word processing assignments and develop my typing skills. Business and Technology II prepared me for the demands of email, Facebook, and countless banal computer tasks. Most importantly, Business and Technology II saved my academic career. That’s it. See you.