Student, Teacher, and the Why

6-May-11 – 02:06 by ToddG

The BSR Evasive Driving Course is done and I’ve got a nice little certificate that says I successfully completed the course of instruction. Guess that means I’m ready to start teaching evasive driving, right?

Of course not.

There is far more to teaching that just sitting through a class on the relevant subject matter. In most endeavors we understand this. We all took calculus in high school but how many of us can effectively explain this to a bunch of seventeen year old kids:

If you answered in the affirmative I’m willing to bet your  education extended well beyond high school… and covered more than just math.

For whatever reason, though, many people seem all too willing to go from student to teacher in the firearms world in one quick step. But for the most part the best a student can hope to accomplish after simply taking a class is to parrot what he’s been told and taught. And simply parroting an experienced instructor won’t cut it when a student does something you’re not prepared for or asks a question you can’t answer.

There are some core abilities you need, in my opinion, before you start teaching:

  • A high level of technical proficiency. In other words, you can do it yourself… and do it well. Do you need to be the best shooter in the world? Of course not. Otherwise, there’d be just one guy out there teaching and we’d all be waiting in line for years for a class. But if you’re still at the point where you make a lot of mistakes or have not refined your own technique, it’s probably not a good idea to show other people.
  • A genuine understanding of pedagogy. Doing and teaching are not the same thing. There is a real science behind adult learning. You’re doing yourself and more importantly your students a disservice if you don’t have a grasp on how people learn, retain, and improve physical skills. If you’ve ever been to a class in which the instructor just keeps saying, “No you’re doing it wrong… do it like this!” you know exactly what I’m talking about. In the realm of firearms, this includes being able to run a firing line safely. One sure sign of an unprepared instructor-wannabe is the inability to maintain safety whether it’s bullseye shooting on a square range or room clearing in a shoothouse.
  • The ability to answer the “Why?” question. This, to me, is the real line between a good instructor and a mediocre one. It takes us beyond the technique and delves into the theory behind it. If you show someone how to grip a pistol and he asks you why you do it that way, what is your answer? “It’s the way I was taught” or “it’s what works best” are completely failures. “It helps control recoil” isn’t much better. The why means knowing how the grip works, what it achieves, and how variations affect performance. Being able to answer the why questions requires you to put in the work. You need to get exposed to different viewpoints and different ways of performing the same task. And you need to understand the tradeoffs that led you to favor the particular technique or tactic you teach. You need to know why you do it the way you do it.

Teaching is about more than parroting what your favorite instructor says and does. It takes time, effort, and reflection. Teaching is a skill, an art, and a science. Most of all, teaching is a responsibility.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

(equation graphic, which is utterly incomprehensible to me at least, courtesy of wikipedia)

  1. 13 Responses to “Student, Teacher, and the Why”

  2. Nice!
    You hit the nail on the head.

    By Frank B on May 6, 2011

  3. This is the reason I keep coming back to this blog. As Frank said Todd’s on target as usual. Unfortunately with the expansion of concealed carry there has been an explosion of instructors who rely on “Because I said so”. The really good ones can be hard to find.

    By RSA-OTC on May 6, 2011

  4. IMHO, the ability to teach is a gift. To a certain point one can learn how to teach. Above this point one have to have this gifted sense and a indeep understanding what he´s talking about.

    “Because I said so” shows a lack of knowledge in my books.

    By Frank B on May 6, 2011

  5. Unfortunately I see this way too often in police training.

    Joe Blow is an experienced instructor, but he pisses off one of the bosses, by doing something like insist that the bosses safely handled guns at the range, or shoot a passing score.

    Joe is out and the next guy gets a one week NRA Instructor school (not knocking the NRA, just noting one of the more widespread cert courses) and he is now an instant shake-and-bake “instructor”. We know he’s GTGT to teach firearms because he has a certificate and is “certified”.

    By chuck on May 6, 2011

  6. Todd – I think you are the first instructor I’ve met who seems to understand the concepts of andragogy vs. pedagogy in the adult learning concept. That adults need to know the “why” and what value these techniques bring to them. Very nice and well put.

    By Tim D on May 6, 2011

  7. Todd,

    The equation you posted is an Integral, which allows you to find the area under a curve on an X-Y Graph (regardless of the shape of the curve), by taking the difference between the solution of the Function at “b” and the solution at “a”. It is very usefull…but not in teaching people how to shoot.

    Or in making holsters for that matter…everything I learned in 2 years 0f Calculus and Differential Equations is now lost to distant memory.

    By John R on May 6, 2011

  8. Todd – You are right on target with most of what you said. However, I would encourage you to broaden the definition of your first point. A high degree of technical knowledge is required, but not necessarily the ability to execute.

    As a general example look at many of the coaches in top level sports. Most of them could not run the length of the “field of play” without getting winded let alone do some of the amazing things they coach their players to do. Gymnastics is another great example of an extremely physically challenging activity. While many coaches may have been able to do some of what their athletes are capable of 30 years ago, they certainly can not do that now. Many of them never could.

    So, what do those coaches have in common? The ability to diagnose and critique and use imagination not just images. Instead of simply “showing” their students how to accomplish what they are being taught, these coaches get their students to “see” with their mind’s eye and get them to execute using their own bodies, not copying what the coach is doing. Which, by the way, requires the ability to do the items in your second and third bullets.

    Keep up the good work.

    By Sean on May 6, 2011

  9. Nice to see I’m not alone. I have been arguing with our Police Standards Council for YEARS that there is more to teaching than just being able to shoot. I’d say that less than 10% of the law enforcement instructors I know can actually “teach”. Sure, they run a safe range, but can’t diagnose and correct a problem.

    Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen new “instructors” regurgitate their instructor course to a basic class. Like the basic class needs to know about case law affecting instructor liability.

    This article gives me a renewed hope for the future of firearms training – not only in lae enforcement, but in the civilian world as well.

    Teachers that can actually teach, and understand the concept of being a teacher. Such a simple concept, it’s a wonder that no one has thought of it before 😉

    By ETG on May 6, 2011

  10. I’m pretty sure if you took calculus in high school, you were an above averag student. Calculus is a college level course… So would that mean you were qualified to teach algebra then?

    By eXtreme0327 on May 7, 2011

  11. Todd I would make a comment but I now have a headache from that formula.

    By Regularguy on May 7, 2011

  12. I…uh…never studied calculus…..

    By Brian on May 10, 2011

  13. Bravo! What a fresh and accurate look at the inner life of learning anything. Great writing. Thanks from a lifelong newbie.

    By ennis on May 21, 2011

  14. Bravo!

    Most instructor “certification” courses are little more than one organization or person presenting a syllabus to a student and labeling them an instructor after paying a course fee and sitting through a presentation. Few have any specific skill standard that the so-called instructor is supposed to meet. Worse still, many folks pretending to be instructors lack even these minimal credentials and lean back on irrelevant experience such as police or military service.

    A firearm instructor should be his/her own best student. A person that can’t teach himself to shoot can’t teach anyone else. This should be an evaluation of skill by a recognized, impartial third party and in front of witnesses. Formal certifications of instructor classes attended are good, preferably from multiple sources, showing exposure to various approaches is good but just the start. A true instructor must have demonstrated higher level ability. If not, the “instructor” is merely a parrot repeating someone else’s curriculum without really understanding it.

    By John M. Buol Jr. on Jul 19, 2011

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