By Beth Blakely

Every experienced trainer has heard the dreaded words, “But you told me … ” or “That other instructor said ….” These days, the pressure is on for trainers to have up-to-date information regarding Microsoft certification. Students are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars to pass these difficult exams, and they expect you to help them do it. Here are some tips to stay on top of the latest changes in Microsoft certification, calm agitated students, and hopefully protect yourself and your fellow instructors from their wrath.

When it comes to protecting yourself from the “but-you-said … ” blues, your best defense is a good offense. Make sure you are prepared by visiting the training and certification area of Microsoft’s Web site often for the latest information.

Irene Hadley, a technical instructor at New Horizons Computer Learning Center in Louisville, KY, said that besides visiting the site often, she also takes advantage of Microsoft’s MCP Magazine and Training and Certification News and MCP NewsFlash e-mails to stay current. Instructors can register to receive those items at Microsoft’s site as well.

“You have to keep reading and keep abreast of changing information,” Hadley said. “This industry changes so much that what you knew yesterday may not be correct today.”

Practical experience is invaluable
Kelly Marr, an MCT at Venusoft in Louisville, KY, said there’s no substitute for the experience he’s gained outside the classroom.

“Not just experience talking about it, but actually making the product work,” Marr said. “When you bring that experience to the table, there’s nothing that can replace that.”

Once you are confident of your own knowledge, you must prepare your students for exams in two ways. The first is obvious. Students must be prepared to answer questions correctly. But the second is not so obvious: They must be able to completely understand the exam questions.

Teach students to analyze questions
York Stahmer, a technical instructor at New Horizons Computer Learning Center, said he tries to teach his students to read a question critically and examine every word.

“Most students tend to skim-read and may miss a key portion,” Stahmer said. “Students tend to paraphrase complicated questions, and sometimes a misplaced word or two can completely change the meaning.”

Listen closely to student comments
Likewise, students may paraphrase in-class questions. Combat the “but-you-said … ” blues by carefully analyzing what students are saying.

“Make sure you understand the question,” Stahmer said. “Pay careful attention to what the student tells you, and make sure you understand before you give a definitive answer.”

But what happens when a student holds you accountable or becomes irate in class due to what another instructor allegedly told him? Stahmer said he first tries the tactic of clarifying the question and assuming the other instructor misunderstood. He said he often uses the phrasing: “I think this is what they thought you were asking, because in that case, it would in fact be the correct answer,” or “As I understand your question, the answer would be ….”

Marr said he’s only had to deal with situations where students were misinformed by someone outside his own organization, and in any case it’s better to deal with the problem directly.

“I usually say, ‘Let’s clear it up and move on,’” Marr said. “It’s more important to get the students the correct information than to prove someone is wrong or right.”

If all else fails, instructors may diffuse the situation by taking the human-error approach. Try “the trainer may have made a mistake, and that does happen,” or “he must have been having an off day.”

Don’t try to fake it
To avoid being a perpetrator of passing on incorrect information, it is important to know your strengths and be honest about them. Hadley said at times you must resist the temptation to answer a question without double-checking with an expert in that area.

“The hardest part of being an instructor is trying to be everything to everybody,” she said. “Right now, I’m concentrating on security. For others, it may be databases or something else.”

Remember: It’s a two-way street
Finally, it’s important not to assume personal blame for a student’s exam failure. One wrong answer is not going to make or break a student’s success at certification, and that’s something to remember if a student says, “You made me fail.”

“You have to get to the root of the problem,” Hadley said. “If a student answers one question incorrectly because of what I told them, I’d say I was sorry. But if they failed, they didn’t fail the test because of me. It’s not what you’ve read or what someone has told you. It’s your overall understanding of the material that’s being tested. And that overall understanding can only come from experience.”

Marr said failing a test on the first try is not necessarily a bad thing because it can show students specific areas where they lack a full understanding of the material. But when it comes to passing exams, students need to make the effort to study on their own as well as in class.

“It’s the responsibility of our students to prepare for the exam properly,” Marr said. “It’s a joint effort between the student and the instructor.”

Dealing with unrealistic expectations
Instead of angry students, Marr said he’s mostly seen “angry employers, whose employee has gone through training but doesn’t know much more about the product. But they can pass the test. Exams are a by-product. We want our students to walk out of class knowing the material, what it means, and how it works in the real world.”

Hadley agreed. “People come in with such major expectations,” she said. “If they think they’re going to read a book or take a class and suddenly be an expert, they’ve got another thing coming.”
We want your feedback. Have students given you the “but-you-said … ” blues? Have you taken the fall for another instructor’s misinformation? Write and tell us about your situation and how you handled it.
By Beth Blakely

Every experienced trainer has heard the dreaded words, “But you told me … ” or “That other instructor said ….” These days, the pressure is on for trainers to have up-to-date information regarding Microsoft certification. Students are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars to pass these difficult exams, and they expect you to help them do it. Here are some tips to stay on top of the latest changes in Microsoft certification, calm agitated students, and hopefully protect yourself and your fellow instructors from their wrath.

When it comes to protecting yourself from the “but-you-said … ” blues, your best defense is a good offense. Make sure you are prepared by visiting the training and certification area of Microsoft’s Web site often for the latest information.

Irene Hadley, a technical instructor at New Horizons Computer Learning Center in Louisville, KY, said that besides visiting the site often, she also takes advantage of Microsoft’s MCP Magazine and Training and Certification News and MCP NewsFlash e-mails to stay current. Instructors can register to receive those items at Microsoft’s site as well.

“You have to keep reading and keep abreast of changing information,” Hadley said. “This industry changes so much that what you knew yesterday may not be correct today.”

Practical experience is invaluable
Kelly Marr, an MCT at Venusoft in Louisville, KY, said there’s no substitute for the experience he’s gained outside the classroom.

“Not just experience talking about it, but actually making the product work,” Marr said. “When you bring that experience to the table, there’s nothing that can replace that.”

Once you are confident of your own knowledge, you must prepare your students for exams in two ways. The first is obvious. Students must be prepared to answer questions correctly. But the second is not so obvious: They must be able to completely understand the exam questions.

Teach students to analyze questions
York Stahmer, a technical instructor at New Horizons Computer Learning Center, said he tries to teach his students to read a question critically and examine every word.

“Most students tend to skim-read and may miss a key portion,” Stahmer said. “Students tend to paraphrase complicated questions, and sometimes a misplaced word or two can completely change the meaning.”

Listen closely to student comments
Likewise, students may paraphrase in-class questions. Combat the “but-you-said … ” blues by carefully analyzing what students are saying.

“Make sure you understand the question,” Stahmer said. “Pay careful attention to what the student tells you, and make sure you understand before you give a definitive answer.”

But what happens when a student holds you accountable or becomes irate in class due to what another instructor allegedly told him? Stahmer said he first tries the tactic of clarifying the question and assuming the other instructor misunderstood. He said he often uses the phrasing: “I think this is what they thought you were asking, because in that case, it would in fact be the correct answer,” or “As I understand your question, the answer would be ….”

Marr said he’s only had to deal with situations where students were misinformed by someone outside his own organization, and in any case it’s better to deal with the problem directly.

“I usually say, ‘Let’s clear it up and move on,’” Marr said. “It’s more important to get the students the correct information than to prove someone is wrong or right.”

If all else fails, instructors may diffuse the situation by taking the human-error approach. Try “the trainer may have made a mistake, and that does happen,” or “he must have been having an off day.”

Don’t try to fake it
To avoid being a perpetrator of passing on incorrect information, it is important to know your strengths and be honest about them. Hadley said at times you must resist the temptation to answer a question without double-checking with an expert in that area.

“The hardest part of being an instructor is trying to be everything to everybody,” she said. “Right now, I’m concentrating on security. For others, it may be databases or something else.”

Remember: It’s a two-way street
Finally, it’s important not to assume personal blame for a student’s exam failure. One wrong answer is not going to make or break a student’s success at certification, and that’s something to remember if a student says, “You made me fail.”

“You have to get to the root of the problem,” Hadley said. “If a student answers one question incorrectly because of what I told them, I’d say I was sorry. But if they failed, they didn’t fail the test because of me. It’s not what you’ve read or what someone has told you. It’s your overall understanding of the material that’s being tested. And that overall understanding can only come from experience.”

Marr said failing a test on the first try is not necessarily a bad thing because it can show students specific areas where they lack a full understanding of the material. But when it comes to passing exams, students need to make the effort to study on their own as well as in class.

“It’s the responsibility of our students to prepare for the exam properly,” Marr said. “It’s a joint effort between the student and the instructor.”

Dealing with unrealistic expectations
Instead of angry students, Marr said he’s mostly seen “angry employers, whose employee has gone through training but doesn’t know much more about the product. But they can pass the test. Exams are a by-product. We want our students to walk out of class knowing the material, what it means, and how it works in the real world.”

Hadley agreed. “People come in with such major expectations,” she said. “If they think they’re going to read a book or take a class and suddenly be an expert, they’ve got another thing coming.”
We want your feedback. Have students given you the “but-you-said … ” blues? Have you taken the fall for another instructor’s misinformation? Write and tell us about your situation and how you handled it.