Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How do you teach a snake to dance?

I was in the local convenience store yesterday picking up some stuff for dinner, and the cashier was obviously training someone. The trainee looked pretty lost, while the cashier/trainer raced through the transaction, as if the new woman should be able to pick up everything on the first pass.

I had a similar experience at my last job. I had just been promoted to Section 8 Occupancy Specialist (read: caseworker). This position actually had some prestige within the public housing office where I worked. My trainer was a fellow O.S. with a lot of experience, and she threw everything at me all at once. I was lost from the get-go. When I thought I had a handle on something, she pointed out a half dozen mistakes. The guidebook she let me use, which had step by step examples of every kind of paperwork, had pages out of order and revisions and revised revisions scratched in the margins by generations past. We had different lunch breaks, so when I had a question she was inevitably gone. I failed miserably at that position, and I lay part of my failure at the feet of a crappy training program.

I feel like I'm entitled to criticize their training methods because I worked as a trainer for two years at a previous job. When I worked for a book warehouse I trained numerous employees. For a week I had them under my observation. I did nothing else but help them learn the job. My education background finally came in handy; I knew the different ways people learned and could tailor my methods to fit their needs. Some of the people I trained went on to higher positions. I trained two future supervisors and another guy who went from the warehouse into the corporate offices.

I'm thinking about all of this as I drove home with my ground beef and pepperoni and ice cream sandwiches. If the cashier-trainee ends up surviving at this convenience store it will be in spite of her training, not because of it. If you throw enough transactions at her she'll end up getting it, I guess, but it isn't the best way to do it. A better way would be to let her watch as the trainer worked and talked through each transaction. A manual could be developed with examples and pictures. Give her mock transactions and have her walk through the steps. Then throw her to the wolves. Don't overwhelm her right away.

And of course, I tried to make spiritual applications as well. How many people leave church on Sunday having heard a fantastic sermon, but have no clue what to do with it? How many pastors take educational psychology and methods along with homiletics and hermeneutics? Do older Christians adequately model the Christian life for the "trainees"? How many people give up on Christianity because they feel overwhelmed, having plenty of people around to tell them how but very few to show them how?

How do you teach a snake to dance? I don't know, but you might have to lead for awhile.


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