Training Those Who Shouldn’t Be Trained

Posted by on October 21, 2015


So, I know some people ask me what it is I do and I always reply that I’m a “Technical Training Consultant”. I usually then add that I train IT or programmers technical aspects of software for law firms. I usually don’t get into much more detail than that because honestly, most people don’t care.

But, in order to set a bit of context around this post, this is what I typically teach to folks in my classes:


The code you see above is known as WordML. Those 11 lines of code actually produce this:

Hello, world!

And in all fairness, the code typically would look closer to this:


This blurb combines WordML with XSLT. The Hello line here pulls in information from a data file formatted in something called XML. That XML file typically contains information regarding an invoice from a law firm. The XSLT line also uses XPath to point to a specific field or set of fields in the XML data which needs to be rendered in WordML so that Microsoft Word can understand it.

Sufficiently confused?

Now, before I go any further, I teach other things as well. But generally speaking, when you see that I’m on the road or traveling somewhere, I’m generally teaching what I’ve put above just in a LOT more detail, and doing it over 4-5 days. The code I wrote above is very basic. We do a LOT more complicated things in those 4-5 days.

Without sounding like I’m being a bit arrogant, I’m good at what I do. In fact, I’m really good at what I do. Add to that the fact that I actually love what I do, my boss is awesome, my department is awesome, and the company I work for is amazing, I count myself extremely lucky to be where I’m at.

So all of that being said, the last few months have been kind of brutal. This week has been such a huge reward for me as it’s been an awesome group in my class but they have been the exception and not the rule lately. To give you more of an idea of what I’ve been experiencing over the last few months, let me use an English teacher analogy.

Imagine you are an English teacher. You have been teaching English all your life and know the language, and literature back and forth. You’ve read the great poets, and many other great authors and have studied them at great length.

Now, for most of your career, you’ve done part time teaching work in high schools and some university work. Generally speaking, you’ve typically been hired by educational institutions to teach Shakespeare’s poetry to students as you consider that to be your specialty. You can teach anything about English, but Shakespeare is really your specialty.

In high schools, colleges, and universities, your classes do very well and really enjoy being taught by you. You receive many accolades and truly enjoy your job.

You receive a new offer to teach a 5 day Shakespeare class to a private school in your local community. All is settled and arranged and you show up on the first day ready and eager. You meet Mary who you were hired by and she says they are very excited about class. The students roll into class with big smiles and seem quite happy and eager to learn. You then introduce yourself, give a little bit of history of what you’ve done, and then ask the students to introduce themselves.

The students turn and look at you in confusion. They mumble some words to each other but you can’t hear what they are saying. Eventually, Mary stands up. Mary tells you she’s the only one in the class that speaks or understands English. Her language skills are not bad but not great either. Everyone else in the class can only understand a handful of words in English, and can’t speak it either. No one has ever heard of Shakespeare and they thought they were taking a completely different type of class.

The students are not allowed to leave and neither are you. You must deliver the class as best as you can and try to make them understand. Frustrated, you begin the class.

During the afternoon, you get Mary to ask the class what some of their most memorable poems are. She looks confused, but asks the question in her native language to the other students and they all look as confused as her. She turns back to you and says “What’s a poem? I’ve never heard of that before.”

You realize that you’re teaching an English class about Shakespeare and his poetry to people who don’t understand English and they don’t even know what a poem is.

By the time lunchtime comes on day 2, it’s very clear that no one in the class is getting much of anything. Mary is getting some of it but not enough to really say she’s learning anything. You speak to Mary about how the class is not moving along and that you were told that it was English people in the class so why are non-English people there. She explains that after she spoke to you, she decided it would be ok to put the non-English people in the class because they really should learn Shakespeare. You explain that you will not be able to cover all of the material, and what you do cover will be done very slowly. She happily agrees and you move on.

The end of the week comes and the class thanks you for your work. Mary is very happy with what you have done and thanks you herself. You pack up, and head home and hope next week you’re teaching to people who understand English, and know what a poem is.

This has been my life for the last few months. And you can imagine that if you were the teacher in that story, how incredibly frustrating it is, and how quickly your patience would wear thin trying to deal with that. Add to that the fact that I am not teaching English. I’m teaching programming like what I showed you earlier.

I have found myself more exhausted after classes than I have ever been in my life. It is extremely draining to try and be patient and understanding while still trying to get the material across.

There’s a multitude of reasons why it seems to be happening more so lately than before. I’ve expressed my concerns with my manager and she’s been very good at doing her best to try and prevent this kind of thing from happening again. I am hoping the future is going to be better, but when you go through batches of classes where it’s so much more draining, it can get to be a bit much after awhile.

Another thing I should add is that it’s not the students themselves either. To continue with the analogy, imagine that those students in the English class are engineers. They can design the most sophisticated pieces of technology in the world, but when it comes to English, and poetry for that matter, it’s just “not their thing”. It’s not that they are not intelligent or capable, it’s just not something they are going to “get”.

It’s like me and cars. I have no clue how cars work, how to put them together, or fix them, or do anything other than drive the car, and put gas in it. I can jump start a car and put washer fluid in it, and in a pinch I might be able to change a tire. But do an oil change, or any kind of actual repair: forget it. It’s just not something I “get”. I’m not stupid or unintelligent. It’s just not me.

Also, as a teacher, it’s your job to get the students to understand a concept so they can take that concept and use it. It’s a lot harder on the head to constantly be thinking about a 100 different ways to explain something so that someone who doesn’t get it, gets it. I have my stock methods of explaining things and to the right people, they work every time. But for the wrong people, you really have to think extra hard about how to explain a complex subject in a much simpler fashion. I enjoy being challenged, but at the same time, you don’t want to be challenged on every single thing you’re trying to get across.

Thankfully, this week is my last week of full on training for awhile and I have 3 fantastic students who are blowing through the material at a regular pace. I even told them I was so happy to have them after having had some of my previous classes the last few months.

After feeling so frustrated, there was a part of me that was seriously considering leaving the training world completely. I love teaching and it’s something I am good at, but after awhile a person’s patience dries away and it gets harder and harder to keep being polite. Thankfully, my most recent client has rejuvenated me and I’m feeling much better about the future.

Let’s see what comes next.

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