A day in the life of a note-taker at Harold Washington College
By Sajedah Al-khzaleh
They enter their office after clocking in for work. Unlike other departments in the building, this office’s door is always closed. They make sure to get there early so they have enough time to gather some materials.
For the beginning of the workshift, all that is necessary is a pen and paper. Any text written on the paper will bleed through a sheet underneath it, creating a duplicate copy.
Classes for the day have just begun.
This is a typical start to a note-taker’s day at Harold Washington College. They are not students, but they work like them.
“Think like a student and act like a note-taker,” said Randy Corner, a note-taker for the past two years. He follows this motto as a reminder to take thorough notes for the students he assists.
Note-taking is the number one service provided by the Disability Access Center. They assist students with learning disabilities, psychological disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, and mobility disabilities. They also assist those with health impairments, brain traumas and injuries.
“Note-takers allow students with disabilities level the playing field so that they have equal access to an education as any other student,” said Niki Radford, director of DAC.
Students attending HWC were able to work as note-takers for DAC in the past. But now, due to scheduling difficulties, only HWC graduates and anyone seeking employment can apply, according to Radford.
Note-takers guide students aroundthe school, attend the student’s classes and take notes the way the student prefers. Corner, for example, uses highlighters to make his notes more legible.
Note-takers work with four or five students a day, depending on the class schedule.
“Preparation is [the] key,” said Conner. “We have our schedules, but sometimes [we are] asked to switch with other classes. We might have to help another person that we are not used to, so we have to be flexible [and] prepared.”
But note-takers do more than what their job title says, according to Radford.
In a classroom setting, they are “test proctors,” which involves looking over the student during a test and ensuring academic integrity. They are also “exam aids,” where they serve as readers and writers during an exam.
“People think the job is easy, but we are doing it for someone else. This is not a selfish job,” said Corner. “We are like mini-professors; we have to repeat what it said and make sure the person [understands] it.”
Confidentiality is heavily emphasized at the DAC as it is an essential requirement for the job. The office doors remain closed so students are comfortable when seeking help or testing.
Part of the two-week training note-takers receive is learning about nuances, following disability etiquette, following the law and maintaining professionalism, according to Radford.
“It’s a respect thing. Everything is within this office and nothing personal can leave,” said Corner. Even notes must be finalized that same day, so that students have their copies.
“We don’t take our work home with us, what needs to get done that day gets done. We always have copies from the double paper we use,” he said. Students take the original and the copy gets filed away. Some copies get scanned into the database and are converted into specific types of text like audio or braille, according to Corner.
Still, a certain chemistry happens on the job, said Niki.
“I can’t think of a note taker that said they hated the job,” she said. “They take the job seriously; I feel greater ease knowing they are comfortable. I [am] fortunate to have my team.”
The note-takers have also learned from their students.
“It’s a very rewarding experience; they amaze me,” said Carl Lane, another note-taker. He has been working as one for almost 5 years.
“I’ve never worked with people with disabilities outside of this job, so it made me see [how] important it is to help people who can’t help themselves,” he said.
“It’s an accomplishment. The goal of education is [to provide] opportunity for any student that comes here,” said Corner. “These students try achieving something.”
And since they are like students in the classrooms, Lane and Corner learn new material everyday. Sometimes Lane is tempted to participate in class, he laughed. Instead he channels what he is learning into his notes to better assist his student.
“Most of the time the students are very eager to participate in class themselves,” he said. “We just kind of help them express themselves the best possible way.”
Corner and Lane enter their office after clocking out for work. With doors still closed, they become scribes and text converters.
The notes that were written using only pen and paper become digital and audio files.
Classes for the day are over.