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Learning to teach

Several times over the past few years, I’ve had people ask me about the process of becoming a firearms instructor. How do you do it? What does it take? How much training is enough, and what kind of a background do you need to have?

Here’s my answer: How to Become a Firearms Instructor.

It’s a somewhat higher standard than many people seem to hold, so I’m really looking forward to hearing everyone’s feedback on this one.  Although I expect I’ll catch plenty of flak in this age of the instant expert, I also think it’s a conversation our  community really needs to have.

Please share this link with others, and post your thoughts below.

9 Responses to Learning to teach

  1. momwithagun says:

    I think you’re absolutely bang-on with this, Kathy, and in fact your roadmap for the DIY road tracks fairly closely with the plan I’d already outlined for myself in my own journey. The reality I see in my area is that there are plenty of folks with marginal teaching ability (and sometimes marginal teaching skill) who are calling themselves firearms trainers. To be honest, this scares the you-know-what out of me.

    Something else to keep in mind, I think, is that a trainer’s competence and qualification could well be called into question if one of her students is ever involved in a lethal force encounter. It would really suck if someone landed themselves in jail because the tactical and legal knowledge imparted to them by their trainers was unsound.

  2. wkeller says:

    Morning Kathy,

    Good article and pretty much right on the mark. A few additional thoughts.

    The biggest difficulty to apprenticeship is simply the availability of skilled “artisans”. I suspect that has been the case throughout the ages. For example for me to travel to Washington and stay long enough to truly fulfill an apprenticeship program is simply impractical.

    Following that is whether the skillset that these “artisans” teach is one you actually want to learn/teach. In today’s world social media is doing a good job of providing a way for students to review their instructors making it much easier to sort the “wheat from the chaff” and allowing the student to make a much more informed decision.

    For those fortunate to have a shooting program available that is willing to take on an apprentice (and that they have a skill set worth learning), I agree that it’s a great path and one that should be encouraged.

    The benefit that the certification route provides is, as you said, it is much easier to implement and to acquire. The NRA is probably the poster child for this route. They have a couple of advantages. Good material that has been developed and refined for over 100 years. Not too shabby. And, they provide prospective students a solid set of expectations as to what they will learn throughout the courses.

    Their biggest disadvantage is that a Training Counselor is only exposed to the candidate instructor for 2-3 days, depending on the course. It’s tough to see the depth of the individual’s ability in that short of time. Still, I have been fortunate enough to have a number of great T/Cs that really pushed me during the course work – hopefully I will live up to their expectations.

    Where the NRA coursework falls short is training past the “basic” level. They are beginning to address this, but there is still a much broader array of course work for this need outside the confines of the NRA certification program.
    While you touched on public speaking – teaching is a skillset that I honestly don’t know if you can “learn”.

    The true ability to teach is the real key to transferring a particular skill set from the instructor to the student. From a student’s POV, this is what they should research first when looking for an instructor – can that instructor actually teach them something? Or do they just have a wall full of certifications?

    Another observation about instructors – those who do not have a passion to teach simply don’t. During my T/C course, the NRA folks said they had pulled over 700 certifications because of non-use. I found that interesting. I teach because it’s something I simply need to do.

    Good article Kathy, plenty of “meat on the bone” to chew on, looking forward to seeing what other folks have to say.

  3. ScottT says:

    Excellent article. My path has been a blended one. I recieved excellent training and mentoring while in the military. After leaving the military I started shooting IDPA and other matches. I met a great group of shooters and started teaching at a local range on a volunteer basis. While I had a good foundation from what I learned in the military I elected to get my NRA certifications to make me more well rounded. I currently work as a full time instructor working with and learning from some really talented “others.” I am very fortunate in that the range where I instruct and develop training classes pays for me to attend the courses of other instructors.

    I believe you have to really have a passion for teaching to be an effective instructor. We certainly don’t do it for the money. There are only a handful of folks out there, like the Smiths, the Farnams, and Ayoob, who have made this their lifes work and not starved to death. While I make my living as a CRSO and Instructor, I will most likely never be rich, or nationally recognized, but I will make a difference in the lives of my students. And, yes, I love my job.

  4. 4thestars says:

    Wonderful article, Kathy! My personal training goals are very similar to your list. The first several are identical and in the same order, even!

    I am personally fortunate to have some good local instructors as mentors, although having a “day job” means I can only work with them on weekends.

  5. mgutterres says:

    Spot on, as usual. I went the “The do-it-yourself road” mostly because I wanted to learn as much as a could, as fast as I could, when I first began. Now that I’m married with children, the journey is much – much slower than it was once upon a time BC (before children), but it is a journey and not a destination.

    I cannot stress enough the need to learn from as many different sources as possible. Everyone has something to teach you, even the jerks who’s lesson is – don’t be like them.

    Thanks for sharing so much.

  6. Dann in Ohio says:

    Kathy… I pretty much agree… I took both paths at various times, working with both civilian and law enforcement instructors… and certifications from the NRA, 4H, and from my time in law enforcement…

    My graduate degree is on Learning Design… and I think that some folks are natural teachers/educators/trainers and some are not… being able to continually assess your students, address various learning styles, and leverage teachable moments are common traits I’ve seen in good instructors… whether they are formally trained or not… and the final trait I’ve seen as common in good instructors is that they too are teachable and continually learning…

    Like everything in life… the best of almost everything is the journey, not a stopping point along the route…

    Dann in Ohio

  7. larryarnold says:

    You’ve laid out an excellent program. The only thing I’d add is experience in team teaching. I currently do most of my Hunter Education classes with an instructor who has 25 years experience to my 30, and we both catch things and improve each other’s technique. Plus it gives our students two viewpoints, and we can share the admin tasks and front-of-the-class time.

    I also act as co-instructor for the lady who does our Women on Target program, with her taking the lead. I think that’s my most interesting class of the year, and I really have to stay on my toes.

    I’ve been blessed with a number of excellent co-instructors over the past 30 years. I’ve experienced both the senior and junior position, and have greatly benefitted from each.

    Minor points:
    Military and LEO training experience does not directly translate to civilian instruction. Many LEO instructors, in particular, never train a beginner, spending all their time recertifying officers. Civilian shooters are neither military (hurt people and break things) nor LEO (enforce the law.)

    That said, I know quite a few excellent instructors with military and LEO backgrounds, but it’s because they understand the difference in civilian instruction. (I say this as a former infantry basic training officer.)

    Take a step back from self-defense. Your program starts from “If I wanted to become truly qualified to teach other people how to defend their lives with a firearm…” There are a bunch of other reasons to learn to shoot, and you will get students who have them. The single problem I see most often with instructors is the presumption that whatever they do = “shooting.”

    I actually had a student a couple of years ago who didn’t want to learn to shoot. She was getting into a relationship with a shooter, and only wanted to know how to handle firearms safely. So I provided her the non-shooting gun class she wanted. If you haven’t asked your student what she or he wants to learn, and listened to the answer, you aren’t ready to start teaching.

    Finally, the single most important attribute you must develop to be a good instructor is patience.

    • ScottT says:

      Very good points. I always identify what a student is there for; self-defense, recreation, firearm safety. The class is for their benefit and tailored to them, not for me to show how much I know.

  8. Pingback:Becoming a Firearms Instructor « Stuff From Hsoi

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