It’s simple, really. Here’s how in 5 steps:
I regularly see newly minted pistol instructors who are full of idealism and enthusiasm, who hope to hang up a shingle and get rich while being awesome, yet who are absolutely clueless. Not long ago I was the same way. Having struggled and failed, and struggled some more, I’d like to offer 5 points of realistic advice to my younger self and set a standard for my fellow “instructors” to follow. Do you teach? Then read this. Researching an Instructor before taking her class? Then read this.
Step 1: Wear the student’s shoes.
You’ve got safe full of black rifles and a binder full of accolades from a decade as a police officer. Excellent! How does your experience pertain to an arthritic widow who works at an elementary school, is left handed, cross dominant, far sighted, scared of guns, and inherited her late husbands magnum snubbie?
How does a tour of duty in Iraq prepare you to teach a father and his 2 toddlers gun safety?
Whats the ideal defensive shotgun load for an elderly couple that lives in a condo?
Whats the best way to carry in a purse?
I think you get the idea: It Depends! Your experience (as great as it may be) is irrelevant UNLESS you can relate it meaningfully to the student’s needs!
The number one mistake I see amateur instructors (of all ages and experience levels) make is to assume that the answers they have are valuable. This is erroneous. Rather, it is the questions the student has, especially the ones they don’t even know to ask, that are most valuable. Your skill or experience, without empathy means nothing to the student.Therefore, you have to watch, listen, and put yourself into their shoes. That’s what makes a good teacher.
Step 2: Learn how to learn.
Before you can guide students in their journey, you have to be a student, but as you study and perfect your craft, the most important thing you gain is not knowledge, but rather the process of gathering knowledge. Understanding how you and others process and retain information is the foundational experience which allows you to be a successful teacher, and truly benefit your students. How can you possibly understand how to teach if you haven’t mastered how to learn?
How do you learn how to learn? Take classes and adopt mentors. Read books, and practice learning new skills every day. No one gets good at doing anything once, so if you want to be a teacher, then you must be a student, and you must be a student of Everything.
Step 3: Learn how to teach.
Your knowledge is worth nothing unless you can transfer it to someone else coherently and efficiently. The shooting industry, like any other, is chock full of subject matter experts who absolutely suck at communicating. The absolute worst thing you can do for your students is to show them a cool and fast technique, give them the false confidence that they can replicate your movement, and then leave them to figure it out, or shoot themselves in the foot (literally).
Some say “Those that can, do, and those that can’t, teach.” This is only propagated by those who are ignorant to the art of educating, and therefore cannot see the value in something which they cannot see. In fact, the true teacher must be able to learn, to do, and then to lead others to learn and do. Such a task is an order of magnitude more complex than simply “doing”. Does my use of the word “teacher” bore you? If so, move along, this isn’t your profession.
Research the “Socratic Teaching Method”. Live with the assumption that every time you tell the student an answer, you rob her of that educational opportunity. Your job as a teacher is to lead them, by discussion and demonstration, to discover the correct answers for themselves. Your job is not to answer questions, but to provide questions step by step so that they can answer them themselves when you are gone.
What factors help knowledge retention? Simply put, if you just “tell” your student, they’ll be lucky to retain 10% by the end of the day. What’s easy for you to connect in context, floats around a cerebral void for students who have no prior experience. This means you have to ask, and learn about your student’s life experience, and tie in parallels and analogies to what they already hold to be true.
Rather than say, show! If your student has sat in class for 20 minutes and not touched an object in demonstration, you’ve gone far too long! We learn best if we can See, Hear, Touch, Do, Write, Read, and Reflect! If you, through analogy and vibrant metaphor can bring the student to “Taste” an experience and “Smell” something such as fear, that is the mark of a true communicator.
Step 4: Gather knowledge.
“Once a teacher, always a student.” The student doesn’t have 10 years to devote to reading books and gathering knowledge, so that’s your job. The student doesn’t have $30,000 to spend in tuition, so that’s your job! A funnel has two ends: The wide end is for books and classes that you absorb so that you can synthesize that information into concise packets of digestible data that come out the small end for your student. Oh, you planned on just getting your Basic Pistol cert and jumping in? That’s a good start, but don’t kid yourself; You’re no expert after only 16 hours of class. Do you know any dentists who took a weekend class before opening up shop? How many mechanics do you know who only have 2 days of schooling? Your job as a teacher, is to be a professional student. If that’s not in your assumptions, this industry is not for you. Your students and peers are counting on you.
Step 5: Be Humble.
Lastly, the hardest lesson I ever learned as a self -defense firearms instructor was that of humility. I was young, skilled, and arrogant; It was a mistake which cost me my reputation, tanked my business, strained the relationship with my employees and lost the facilities which I had worked so hard to foster. It was finally my teacher and mentor David Maglio who drove home the message when he disowned me. That is the cost of being full of yourself. Be humble.
There you have it, how to be a firearms instructor in 5 simple steps. Now, just go and do it 60 hours a week, it’s easy!
This article was edited on 1/10/17 with updated photographs and updated live links.
Brian Wang is a full time firearms and self-defense instructor who resides in the San Francisco bay area. He is trained under the Massad Ayoob Group to guide everyday students like yourself through the complex legal, moral, and social ramifications of the use of Deadly Force in self-defense. He and his fellow instructors offer group and private classes for civilian every day of the week in and around the Bay area. You can find more information about upcoming classes here.