I have written before about the dangers and problems caused by people who don’t (yet) know what they are doing when they step up to teach. This goes ten-fold for people who step up to teach beginners without themselves having any real skill or understanding of the job.
Because teaching beginners is the most dangerous and difficult task any shooting instructor ever faces. And yet we tend to look down on people who teach such classes. Even instructors sometimes look down on themselves for not teaching ‘real’ classes.
This lack of respect for the job of teaching beginners comes out in a lot of different (and sometimes horrible) ways.
We see it whenever we see someone rush to teach “tactical” classes when they themselves do not have either the experience, the training, or the background to teach such classes. They’re eager to teach tactical-type material because teaching that type of class feels somehow more real and more valuable than teaching the basics to beginners.
We see also see this lack of respect for the job when we hear a mediocre shooter (who also has a teaching credential) making excuses for not improving their own shooting skills. Or for not working to grow by learning from others. Or for not taking any shooting classes as a regular student. It’s all explained and excused by that lovely phrase, “Well, after all, I’m only teaching beginners.”
As if keeping a group of naive shooters safe is a trivial and meaningless task. Or as if laying the foundation for how a person will handle and think about guns for the rest of their lives doesn’t matter that much.
But the job is worth respecting. And so are the people who do it well.
Beginners bring all sorts of challenges into class that people who teach more-experienced shooters just don’t have to deal with. Pour an adult beverage for any one of the big names in this industry and ask them about beginner classes … then sit back and listen while they tell you how thankful they are that they don’t teach raw beginners anymore.
What does an instructor who works with beginners need to know?
A little bit of everything: a huge collection of factoids about guns and holsters and ammo and other gear, of course. Range etiquette and emergency protocols, ditto. 1 The current local, state, and federal laws that govern firearms ownership and use. This includes the laws that govern deadly force and all lesser levels of force. How to cope with a wide variety of physical and emotional challenges, including many that will never show up in more advanced levels of class. How to give an engaging short speech that holds the students’ interest. What to do with a clumsy student or with person who has severe arthritis or with a married couple when one of them really really really does not want to be there. They need to be able to competently handle a wide variety of firearms and they must be able to teach someone to easily rack a slide and lock it open.
They must be able to soothe the fearful, put the fear of John Moses Browning into the unsafe, and calm the overly excited.
People who work with beginners also need to have impeccable range safety skills, of course. This means not just being able to see when students are at risk from a wandering muzzle or a wayward finger, but also being able to model near-perfect gunhandling habits at all times. They need to have eyes in the back of their heads because newcomers get into more trouble, more quickly, than most people would ever believe. They need to be quick on their feet, gentle in their demeanor and utterly unyielding on matters of safety. They need to be able to see the future…
See the future? Yup. Just that. When you have responsibility to watch over a group of new shooters on the range, it becomes your job to notice when one of them is about to point the muzzle at someone else (or at themselves), and to magically be standing right next to that person to stop it from happening … before it does. To do this, you learn to read body language and pay attention to all sorts of cues that most people never notice. You learn to see the future, at least a little, and it’s a superpower.
All that, and more. It’s a tough job.
And it deserves a lot more respect than it usually gets.
- A person who does not know how to stop a major bleed or what to do if someone collapses from heatstroke is not ready to watch over a group of shooters on the range no matter how many certifications their brag book has in it. ↩