Help from the Fox, the Dog, and Miss Phelps

Miss Phelps was my high school typing teacher.  I’m sure that her long-term objective stated: “Each student will be able to type a jillion words per minute by the end of the semester.”

Sitting in a basement classroom filled with ancient typing machines, I viewed Miss Phelps as a demanding taskmaster who had no life beyond the dimly lit room where she persistently attempted to squeeze from us at least one more word per minute.

The most important sentence to master in typing was, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  This sentence was the practical application of all of the letters of the alphabet, requiring the brain to notify the fingers to locate the correct letters while racing against the clock to correctly complete repetitions of the sentence until the bell rang. It was then that all fingers had to be in the air and visible to Miss Phelps. Trying to type one additional letter after the bell meant no credit, regardless of how many points might have been earned without that small infraction.

Many of my fellow classmates aspired to get by with the grade of “C.” This was the lowest passing grade. Our high school did not recognize “D” as a grade.  I, on the other hand, was the uptight student striving each day to beat my own record from the previous day. If stress actually produces ulcers, by the end of the semester I was a candidate for them. And it was a miracle that my teeth were not all cracked from the fifty minutes of clinching each afternoon. 

Many years have passed and I now have great appreciation for demanding Miss Phelps. Whenever I am in an airport or restaurant and watch the younger generation (that would be anyone younger than me) using two index fingers to enter things on their computers, I am grateful for Miss Phelps, the brown fox, and the lazy dog.  Thanks to her, I can type quickly without ever looking at the keyboard. I really can’t imagine what it would have been like to type my novel with two fingers.

My brother recently wrote a blog titled, “Not All Change is Progress” http://vanilla-ststt.blogspot.com/2011/08/not-all-change-is-progress.html. In his blog he wrote about the abandonment of “skills” by our educational institutions. His blog made me ask myself: What happened to all of those correct ways of doing things? Did those things make us intellectuals or just get in the way of our creative thinking?


  1. The Washington Post March. I cannot to this day hear it without thinking of Miss Phelps and the typing class. I have said many times to whomever would listen that the typing class was the smartest thing I did as a teenager. Has served me well lo, these many years.

    Thanks for the nod!

  2. Vanilla, unfortunately, I did not recognize good teachers as such when I was in HS. Now I realize what great teachers I was privileged to have.