Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Teach Me If You Can

I am writing this post from a hotel room in Delhi / Gurgaon (not too sure where does it technically fall). I am here to attend a two-day training on “Creating Client Value”. It’s been an interesting day so far, fun in parts and relatable and useful in others. Plus, I had attended another training with largely the same group of colleagues around 4-5 months back, so there is none of that initial ice-breaking hiccups – a really big issue with me – here. We have another full day tomorrow and it promises to be useful.

Today has caused me to reflect back upon the various trainings that I have undergone in my professional life. There have been several of them on various topics over many years. One thing that my experience has reinforced is that any good training is only as useful as the trainer – be that it in school / college or corporate world.

I have always believed that teaching is one of the most important and most difficult jobs in the world. I can never see myself teaching annoying little students like myself in school or college. Even in my current role at my organization, I am sometimes required to take workshops / training sessions and find them more challenging and draining than actual projects. Because when you are a teacher / trainer, no matter how much you underplay it, you are viewed as an expert on the topic, a maestro so to speak. It is never a comfortable position to be in, regardless of how confident and self-assured you might be. You feel as if you are constantly being evaluated and judged. Good teachers are those who can ignore the scrutiny and yet deliver something of value, which the students / trainees can take home and remember.

In school / college, my favourite teachers were always those who could engage my attention even through the most boring of subjects or topics. I remember, we had this one play by John Osbourne called Look Back in Anger. When I had first read it before the classes had commenced, I totally hated its depressing tone, its obnoxious hero, the spineless heroine and the two side-kicks. Luckily, the play was taught by one of the more senior teachers of the English department and in her hands, it became such an intriguing piece of human drama that we all could spend hours discussing its every nuance. That’s the power of a great teacher.

Even in various corporate trainings I have attended, the ones that I have found most useful are the ones that have been most enjoyable too. It is a wrong notion that if training is intense and serious, it cannot be fun. As a trainee, I can refute this with authority.

Take for example, an extremely intense corporate training that I underwent towards the end of last year. It required us to stay up till 11.30-12.00 at night with little breaks in between. It was supposed to prepare us for our next role. The intentions were correct and the content too, perhaps. Where the trainers went completely wrong was in execution. You do not expect people who are no longer students to spend 12 hours straight listening to lectures, jargons and doing role-play. The result? None of us found the training to be of great value though it could have been.

Contrast this with another soft skills training that we had. The aim was to help us understand as relatively new team leaders, how should we deal with our sub-ordinates. The session began at 9 sharp in the morning and ended at six. There were role plays and activities that broke the tedium. We did a paper tower building exercise post-lunch to chase drowsiness away one day and on another, we played ball games. There was time set aside specifically for us to talk amongst ourselves and we found that our situations were not unique but we all could benefit from specific advice that our counterparts gave. Both the ladies who had come down for the training were competent yet so much more approachable.

The second training took place nearly four years ago and yet I use it to this day. The first training I have almost forgotten except when we are discussing the gruelling schedule.

The point is that not everybody can be a trainer. A good student need not be a good teacher. So just because somebody is excellent as a consultant does not mean that he / she can train others on how to be one. And therefore, I have always had great respect and admiration for those who take up teaching / training as a vocation. In this profession, it is not enough to merely like what you are doing but to love it.

On that note, a grand salute to all the teachers who have every taught me in any manner. Without you, I still might have been here. But the route would have been more arduous and longer. So, thank you.

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