Not every diamond has the same value, some are more valuable because they have better qualities. The same could be said for firearms instructors, some have better qualities.
In classes I see students from a variety of different schools or instructors. It is a good thing and I encourage all students to pursue continued education with as many reputable instructors as resources allow. The hard part is choosing a reputable instructor in the first place. It is hard to navigate the growing pool of instructors these days. Make no mistake; media hype, virtual personas and celebrity figures are probably not the best choices for instructors. On the flip side, instructors who lack instructional experience, limited adult learning knowledge and lack of corrective strategy can be just as bad.
Define Your Mission
What are the biggest traits to consider in selecting a firearms instructor. The first thing I tell people is to define your needs or define your mission. If you don’t know what your mission, then it is hard to blame anyone but yourself. Do you need help with your new firearm purchase. How it works, to load it safely and periodic maintenance. Or, are you looking to improve your basic marksmanship skills and manipulations. Then there is the serious student of pistol craft. Ironically, most of the instructor qualities you are looking for are equal across the board. Regardless of your skill level or knowledge deficit you want an instructor that understands your needs, you feel confident will help you meet your needs and develop safe habits that promote continued learning.
Seasoned, its not just for meat
An experienced instructor is the first characteristic to consider. You want instructional experience relevant to the topic. Their subject matter expertise is important, but if they cannot relay this information it is of little value to your needs. Even instructors need education so if they have not attended a recognized instructor school they are lacking core instructor traits such as podium presence, time management and delivery techniques. Being on the podium in front of an audience is intimidating in the beginning. You have to capture the attention of your audience, motivate them to succeed and build trust in the process. The process is best described as curriculum and keeping the class moving on schedule as well as repeatability are a lot harder than you may think. There are different ways to deliver curriculum, you need to consider your audience and adjust as necessary. So, having experience in the various delivery methods ensures a higher retention rate.
As adults we learn by doing, the best model I have come across is described as the gradual release of responsibility. The skills we are teaching are complex and must be broken down into the individual parts, but still have an eye towards their collective application. This process has at its roots in saturation training, meaning you do not move to the next subject until a satisfactory understanding has been achieved. As the instructor you have the principle responsibility of delivering new material. As the student acquires the new material, the responsibility of learning shifts from an instructor lead model to student practice activities. As the student improves, they take on more and more responsibility until they have developed the skill to a satisfactory performance level.
Probably the single most important skill for an instructor to possess is the ability to correct student’s mistakes. The science/art of this skill is developed in combination between a higher order understanding of the material and experience instructing adults. What many overlook is for the material to be retained the adult learner must have a positive experience. They don’t have to have a positive outcome, but for them to continue in their formalized instruction they need a positive experience. If students better understood this trait it would make finding an instructor easy. Most instructors lack this skill or have yet to refine the skill.
While there may be other traits to look for in selecting a firearms instructor these are the ones that make the difference in your experience. As a student stopped to consider these traits when selecting a firearms instructor?