There are few jobs in the world as influential as a firearms or combat instructor.
Unlike any other subject, the teaching of dangerous or even lethal force carries a responsibility like no other topic. Add to that the fact that students in these courses could be called on to use the information provided within hours. This is a serious dose of reality and a reminder that lives can be at stake. For those who have been in this field a very long time, another even more challenging component arises: training those who will teach as well. The most difficult task is training the trainer.
To the uninitiated, teaching can appear to be an easy gig. You just stand there and tell people how to do things. While this is an oversimplification of the attitude, it is essentially true. Few will see the methodology used to pass on this critical information in a relatively short amount of time. Mastering this methodology is critical to teaching instructors how to teach. Those who come to an instructor’s course are very proficient at the skills that will be taught. The task of the master trainer at this point is to teach them how to teach. While the core of this section could fill an encyclopedia, there are certain areas we can focus on, and they are known as the three “P’s.”
The Three P’s
Presentation of the given material must follow a logical and methodic path. Skills and principles should build successively on each other until the student has been exposed to
multiple layers of information. A great way of putting it: Make the pieces of information bite sized
so they are easily taken in.
Professionalism has become a cliché in much of life, but it is a cornerstone to building solid instructors. Unless it is a military course, boot camp is over. Yelling and screaming accomplishes nothing other than boosting your ego. Treating the new trainers as professionals is the best way to develop a solid product. Be firm, consistent and develop a strong rapport with students.
Performance is the final part of this trifecta. As a professional instructor, you should be able to do anything you ask your students to do cold. This means that, without any warm-up, you should be able to walk to the line and perfectly execute whatever it is that you are teaching. This is a standard that I hold myself to, as does every other serious professional in the training business.
Keep Your Edge
The refinement of technique and philosophy should be at the forefront of every instructor’s mind. Times change, weapons improve and society evolves. What was very good information 20 years ago can in many cases now be antiquated. It is important to make sure you are teaching future instructors the most current and relevant information available. To do that, you must continue to train yourself. We need to park our egos and put our “student hats” on as much as possible. Seek out training by a variety of respected instructors around the country. While there are many big names on this list, do not be quick to dismiss smaller instructors who quietly provide world-class training. In many cases these instructors will be much more current on related techniques and tactics.
The skills in this realm are perishable and must be maintained. Even beyond taking part in other courses, master instructors need to practice the craft that they are teaching. Once again we will look at one of the “P” principles: performance. This does not happen magically. It can only be managed through serious training and repetition. Holding yourself to a high standard will not only put you in elite company, but it will also make you a strong role model for students in your classes.
There are many schools of thought on teaching methodologies. Regardless of what style is being used, it is essential to provide the students with feedback. If your students are professionals to begin with, you will rarely gain any ground with them by being demeaning and loud. These people have already been through their basics and should be treated as such. As you work the class through drills, you must provide students with feedback on their performance and how it rates in comparison to what you require of them. Make corrections and keep them on track for success. Be quick to praise and slow to punish. The mistake you just saw a student make may have been the only one they made up to that point, but you happened to be there to witness it. If it becomes a pattern, make corrections. Students undeniably respond better to positive contact than negative. Do not confuse this with coddling students, which is equally as destructive and builds a false sense of confidence. But, in simple terms, let them know when they are doing it right. Set high expectations and show the students how to meet those expectations.
Run It Right
When you run a training course, you must be serious about what you are doing. Having set beginning and end times as well as lunch breaks is essential to building a sense of professionalism in the class. Once again, you are setting the standards that many of these students will emulate. Being late to class, having extended lunches or running late is simply unacceptable. A phrase I consistently live by is, “If you are five minutes early, then you are ten minutes late.” Instructors need to be in the class long before the first student arrives. This not only sets a good example, but it also allows the instructor time to get everything set up for the class. It can also prove to be a very useful time to get your head in the game. While some will just “wing it,” you will be better served by taking time to review the curriculum and revisit your game plan to get it covered.
One of the greatest assets any instructor can have is their teacher. Take time to follow up with your students when possible. More importantly, make yourself available for questions after your students move out into the training field. You can be an exceptional resource for them in dealing with challenging students and situations. By offering this assistance, you once again put yourself at a level of professionalism that can be rare in today’s world. More importantly, you could end up helping an instructor teach a student that may have never succeeded without you.
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What you say as an instructor matters. While you may think it is an off-the-cuff remark, people will remember it. The standards that instructors are held to are much higher than anyone, and rightly so. The consequences for poor instruction can cost someone their life. Be thoughtful and humble about your techniques. Always remember that a student might be called on to fight for their life with your training. This should never be forgotten. In the end, you have a hand at creating a new set of instructors who will approach teaching with the same enthusiasm and passion as you—a passion for excellence and a commitment to help everyone get home safely at the end of their shift.