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Thread: So you're an instructor, hm?

  1. #1

    So you're an instructor, hm?

    Let's talk Instructor Ethics 101. This came off my blog today, but I also decided to share it here. Maybe someone will find it useful.

    ***

    When you step up to teach a self-defense class, you are literally asking students to bet their lives on the quality of the information you have and on your ability to teach it to them. This is no exaggeration, but just the simple truth. Students come to you looking for the knowledge and skill that can save their lives some dark night. If you fail to teach them well, if you teach them the wrong things, if you give them half an answer or a bad answer, they may pay for your failure with their heartís blood. Understanding this Ė really understanding it Ė should scare you down to your toenails. It should force you to become better and better as a shooter, as a teacher, as a learner, as a student of self-defense. It should jar you out of complacency and drive you to do your best with every class you teach. Peopleís lives are in your hands.

    Sometimes I fear that not all firearms instructors understand this. ďIím just teaching beginners,Ē I have heard some say Ė as if they have some private guarantee that none of their beginners will ever really need the things they teach. Or as if it doesnít matter whether a beginner is started right. But even a beginner needs a solid foundation they can safely build upon, not some half-hearted construct cobbled together of cardboard and glue and hope.

    I have even heard some handgun instructors deny that they are teaching self-defense. ďItís just a carry permit class,Ē they say ó as if people carry guns for any other purpose. Or, ďIím just teaching them to use a handgun, thatís all.Ē But if your students think otherwise, if they come to you to learn skills they think they can use to protect themselves and their loved ones, youíre still on the hook. Itís so tempting to engage in these kinds of denials, and maybe thatís a more comfortable place for us to live as instructors, but it does our students no good.

    Thereís something related, scary, within the womenís side of the firearms world right now. Maybe itís always been there, and Iím just becoming more attuned to it. But I keep running into this idea that we can give our students what they need without ever challenging them, without ever pushing their skills and without any risk of hurting their feelings. Everything must always be fun, fun, fun Ė sweetness and light and hallelujah! But Ö when weíre talking about self-defense, weíre actually talking about some very serious matters. We can and do have fun on the range, but itís fun with a deadly serious purpose. And sometimes that purpose will drive us straight through the heart some very personal territory, which is the kind of journey you cannot take without risk.

    Donít get me wrong; Iím a strong believer in encouraging words and positive attitudes. At the same time, those encouraging words should be true, and they should be appropriate. There are times when the most encouraging, appropriate thing to say to your student is, ďYou can do better than that.Ē It is good and right to celebrate success, but even better to celebrate earned success.

    For me, I have always had a struggle with wanting my students to like me, to think Iím a nice person and fun to be around. Most of the time, thereís nothing wrong with that. But my students donít come to me to be my pals. They come to me to learn. If my desire to be super nice and super sweet actually gets them killed someday, then I havenít been nice to them at all.

    In order to fulfill my most important responsibility to my students, I have to risk pushing them beyond their comfort levels. And I have to do it in a way that will cause them to work harder rather than to shut down. If Iím not willing to take that risk for the sake of my studentsí lives, I have no right to call myself a self-defense instructor.

    pax,

    Kathy
    Kathy Jackson

  2. #2
    Site Supporter Jay Cunningham's Avatar
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    The corollary is that you can't teach someone how to fight with a gun in a two day class. And to attempt to sell it otherwise would be a hoax.

    You can be straight with your students and tell them that you're working on their shooting fundamentals within the greater context of self-defense.

  3. #3
    We are diminished
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    Concur with Jay. My teaching career started with basic CCW classes and very few of the students wanted a real self-defense oriented class. They wanted a certificate that allowed them to get a carry permit... a permit they never, ever, ever thought they'd really need. You can't change that mindset in four hours.

    But I certainly understand where you're coming from, and the attitude you warn against is just as common -- if not moreso -- with classes from big name instructors who are teaching more advanced classes. Too often they see their role as providing "edutainment" or they feel that students want nothing more than bragging rights.

    But I keep running into this idea that we can give our students what they need without ever challenging them, without ever pushing their skills and without any risk of hurting their feelings.
    There's no one-size-fits-all solution to this. Some students respond well to being pushed, some fall apart, and some push back. Each one needs to be handled in a different way and at the end of the day, not every student wants to get the same thing from a class. So the challenge for an instructor is even more complicated because not only do you have to push your students, you need to know how to push individuals and you need to know when to back off for certain students.

  4. #4
    I guess my question is where do guys like me fall in? I don't teach a CCW/Self-Defense ANYTHING class. I teach marksmanship classes geared towards specific shooting sports, and I even say "this is not a self-defense class, this is a shooting class."

    I'd like to think that someone who takes a "precision pistol class" where we do nothing but shoot 4 inch circles for 8 hours isn't going to think that I'm teaching them some valuable self defense skill.
    I shot the PX4 before it was cool.

  5. #5
    Site Supporter ST911's Avatar
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    We instructors need to make announcements and COIs clear and explicit as to goals and objectives, intended audience, and pre-reqs, even going so far as putting out "this course is/is not..." statements. It's all a progressive learning process. Take pains in the course to point out how yours complements existing student knowledge and skill, and/or why there is a need for more or other training.

  6. #6
    Jay ~ Absolutely. Necessary corollary is a good way to put it. Explaining to students what they have just learned, and more important, what they have not yet learned, is a big part of meeting the obligation demanded by the trust they give you.

    Todd ~ Good point. That's another important part of an instructor's skillset, is knowing how to read people well enough that you can give the right amount of pressure and the right kind of pressure. It does no good to push them into quitting; the goal is to push them to excel.

    Caleb ~ If you honestly manage student expectations before class, that's on them and not on you. But you, & guys like you, aren't the target here. You're clear about what you teach and why before they get there. The ones to watch (and the thing we all need to guard against so we don't do it ourselves) are those who run bait & switch operations -- oftentimes, not even deliberately, but just because we're not clear on what we offer or why we're offering it. The guys doing entry-level "how to use a handgun" classes deal with a lot of people who 1) want to know how to use a gun to defend themselves, 2) don't know what they don't know, and 3) don't realize that self defense is a different beast from competition in a lot of very important ways. It's easy to get sloppy or lazy under those conditions -- "It doesn't matter, they're just beginners" -- without taking seriously the responsibilty to guide those beginners onto the track they're looking for.

    Skintop ~ Agreed! One thing here (and hey, why not gore a sacred cow or two while I'm at it?) is that too many instructors get very territorial over their students. We can't all meet the needs of every student, and none of us can meet all of the needs of even one student. I think it takes a great deal of brave honesty to say to your students, "Okay, here's what I've taught you. Here's what I haven't taught you. Here are the classes I offer next and how they fit into your needs, and also, here are three instructors I recommend for the things I'm not able to teach you." That, too, goes back to IE101 -- once we realize just how big the obligation is they've put on our shoulders, we're a lot more likely to share that burden around with others who can help carry the weight of it. But if we never realize we have that obligation, or never really feel the full weight of it, we're more likely to look at students through the frame of what we need from them (more money! more sign ups!), rather than focusing on what they need from us (honest workmen doing honest work, including subcontracting the specialty jobs).

    Kathy
    Kathy Jackson

  7. #7
    Murder Machine, Harmless Fuzzball TCinVA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pax View Post
    There’s something related, scary, within the women’s side of the firearms world right now. Maybe it’s always been there, and I’m just becoming more attuned to it. But I keep running into this idea that we can give our students what they need without ever challenging them, without ever pushing their skills and without any risk of hurting their feelings. Everything must always be fun, fun, fun – sweetness and light and hallelujah! But … when we’re talking about self-defense, we’re actually talking about some very serious matters. We can and do have fun on the range, but it’s fun with a deadly serious purpose. And sometimes that purpose will drive us straight through the heart some very personal territory, which is the kind of journey you cannot take without risk.
    I think it's better to think of things in terms of depth.

    Some people only really want to stay in the shallow end of the pool...students and instructors. (Don't get me started on "instructors" who have no ongoing efforts to improve themselves or learn anything new) If I took the average person looking to get their state-mandated CCW training and threw them into an ECQC evo it would be an utter disaster. The last thing any sensible instructor wants to do is leave students discouraged and thinking they can't defend themselves. The truth is that people with minimal or no training use a firearm to ward off criminal assault all the time. Simply having the ability to pull a handgun from concealment tilts the odds dramatically in their favor. It's not a guarantee, but the statistics tell us that more often than not the people who can pull a gun end up going home relatively undamaged.

    If I'm an instructor and I give a darn about more than cashing a check, then my core goal is imparting sufficient skill and wisdom to someone that they leave with the belief they can do this. I want them to regard the firearm in their hands as a problem solving tool. I want them to understand the responsibility involved in the use of that tool, but not to be so afraid of using it that they're more worried about the aftermath of shooting the guy that's trying to cut their head off than they are of the dude who is trying to kill them.

    I try to keep things light and fun. I get people to a pretty high degree of skill just through the standards I have them shoot to. I don't spend lots of time having folks roll around in the dirt and blaze as fast as they can. Instead I tend to make them shoot at very small targets at increasingly longer ranges. Once I have them doing things like hitting a 1" square at 10 yards I bring it back to reality and compare the size of that square to the size of a human eye socket. I like to have new shooters shoot at cheaply bought apples and oranges because they are reactive and fun...and then I like to compare one of the pieces of fruit to the size of a human heart. I use every trick in the book to try and make the actual shooting fun, but I always impart the message that what they're doing on the sights and trigger to make an apple explode will work just as well should they need to drive a hollowpoint into a bad man's heart. Often they don't really perceive that what I'm having them do is well above the average because they don't know any better...so they're doing remarkable things pretty quickly and I have to actually point out to them why they shouldn't get depressed because they missed a 1" square at 10 yards by 1/2 an inch.

    Starting off with high expectations and having useful, effective instructional tools that can actually bring someone who has no idea what they're doing up to your expectations tends to work out quite well, in my experience.

    Now in terms of the use of a weapon for serious social purposes, I'm pretty clear with folks up front:

    I'm not a lawyer, a judge, a prosecutor, a homicide investigator, a former member of a Tier 1 unit, a SWAT cop, an expert witness, or anything that would allow me to state definitively that I'm the definitive SME in the dynamics of the use of force or how such incidents are adjudicated after the fact. If you want somebody with "owner and expert!" on their business card, I'm not your guy.

    I am, however, better trained than most folks. And I've spent a little bit of time trying to figure out what's true and what's nonsense. What I can offer is a shortcut to the stuff that matters. I can offer advice about the use of force that didn't come from gunstore rumor. I can actually point at specific cases in Virginia's accumulated jurisprudence on the use of force and quote relevant passages where self defense doctrine is applied by judges. I'll even give you the citations and you can go on the internet and see if I'm making it up. I'll talk about real cases of self defense that I've researched or even had the chance to discuss with the survivors.

    None of this is because I'm awesome...it's just because I've done the work. I found people who knew more than me and I've been eagerly clawing every useful tidbit of information from them that I possibly can in my own quest to learn. Along the way I've figured some stuff out and it would probably be pretty useful to the average person looking at the prospect of self defense.

    Locally there's some hammerhead running around spreading some seriously bad information. He actually told someone I've given some instruction to that shooting someone more than 21 feet away is a felony. He's an ignorant dolt who has no business running his pitiful suck, but to the person who doesn't know any better he's the expert. It says so right on his business card. I'm not the definitive SME in the use of force in Virginia, but I do know enough to be able to say that guy's full of sheep dip and to offer some useful guidelines on the use of force by sane people in sane situations. I won't hesitate in the least to relate what I've learned from research and listening to people who are smarter than me over the years. I won't claim expert status, but I probably have a better read on what I'm talking about than most other people they are likely to discuss these sorts of things with. If I demure because I'm not sitting alone atop the mountain with omniscience, I'm not doing the people looking to me for guidance any favors. I may not be able to answer everything, but I can at least point them in the right direction...and honestly that's all most people really want in the first place. I don't expect my GP to perform brain surgery...but I do expect him/her to help me find the best neurosurgeon available....

    Some people learn by being thrown right into the deep end...but most would be better off if exposed to the crawl-walk-run methodology. The job of the instructor is to be able to determine where the person is and how to leave them better than the instructor found them. In a couple of days I might not be able to bring them to where I really think they should be, but I can make sure that they leave me better prepared in some way than I found them.

    I'll pick on Tom Givens. I doubt Mr. Givens settled on his 2 day program because it encapsulates everything one needs to know to be competent in the use of a firearm for self defense in his opinion. I'm willing to wager that he has spent a very long time honing his program to try and get the necessities across to students within a limited time frame...and it seems to work. Exceptionally well. When I look at the best instructors I've had, none have ever been able to do all they really wanted to do to prepare students. Given logistical, financial, and time restraints they've been forced to bring some sort of concrete definition to "good enough" based on their training and experience and then train people to that standard.

    That's all you can do, really.
    Last edited by TCinVA; 04-05-2013 at 08:58 AM.
    3/15/2016

  8. #8
    That would have made a hell of a blog post.
    I shot the PX4 before it was cool.

  9. #9
    Murder Machine, Harmless Fuzzball TCinVA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by caleb View Post
    That would have made a hell of a blog post.
    The amalgamation of ideas in there may yet make a post...or two...
    3/15/2016

  10. #10
    Locally there's some hammerhead running around spreading some seriously bad information. He actually told someone I've given some instruction to that shooting someone more than 21 feet away is a felony. He's an ignorant dolt who has no business running his pitiful suck
    More gems and personal favorites from the hammerhead mentioned.....

    If you press an autoloader up against someone it will NEVER fire
    Muzzle swiping the audience constantly through out training
    Advocates whipping a concealed fire arm out and placing it on the table at a restaurant if you decide you want to drink alcohol.


    There are many more examples, but those really get me.

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