View Full Version : What are you looking for in a Firearms Instructor?

DCJS Instructor
March 16, 2008, 09:31 PM
What are you looking for in a Firearms Instructor?

I ask this because I feel that in order to be a good instructor; I must first and always be a good student.

So please let me know what you are looking for when you go to a class. What do you expect to gain or learn from the instruction? I consider myself a good instructor but every time a take a class I learn something….even if it is how NOT to do something.

For example I just held an Advanced Handgun course for PPS/PSD operators. And we were doing live fire break contact and peel drills. The class loved the trigger time as it was something you don’t always get to do in class.

But when we were done and did a de-brief one of the more experienced students said he thought the drill would have gone much better if we had done it dry first focusing on communication. Calling out set, moving, down or (cover) to reload and up when you are ready to get back into the fight. I agree that would have helped. Sometimes as instructors we assume students know something and they really don’t this causes a big disconnect in training.

So let me know what you think would help you learn better, or give me an example of a class that could have gone better or you could have learned more only if…….However please note I DO NOT want this to turn into instructor bashing.

I really just want to know what you folks want to learn form us Firearms Instructors!


Tom Perroni

March 17, 2008, 07:27 AM
One of the most important traits of a good instructor is the ability to evaluate where the student's current knowledge and/or skill level is, paired with the ability to then tailor the program so that it best meets both the student's needs and capability.

Teaching above the student's head, or teaching at a level that bores the student, result in frustration for both student and instructor.

Another important trait of a good instructor is integrity. By that, I mean not only solid preparation to be able to teach the subject, but also the integrity to say, "I don't know" when that is appropriate. Of course, "I don't know" should be immediately followed by one of three options:

1) "I will find out;" or
2) "Let's look it up;" or
3) "Good question; look that up as part of tonight's homework."

The last trait of a good instructor that I will address is communications skill. If you can't communicate knowledge, then it really doesn't matter how much you know. It will only benefit the student if you can communicate effectively.



March 17, 2008, 10:57 AM
What are you looking for in a Firearms Instructor?

That's easy. Any certified NRA instructor can convey the basics of firearms use/handling, responsibilities and legalities. Most CCW instructors do likewise.

If one wants bullseye, cowboy action, trap, target, etc – seek out the proven experts and pay dearly for their expertise.

Self defense? If one wants to learn to fight, seek out a fighter with serious experiences....not the expert talker/paper puncher. Remember, targets don't shoot back. Fighting is a world of its own.

Hard Ball
March 17, 2008, 01:58 PM
Actual experience of close combat stress and its effects on what a shooter 's ability to perform the techniques taught.

March 17, 2008, 03:12 PM
I want the instructor to teach to me. Not the lowest common denominator of knowledge/ability in the class.

I want the instructor to teach what is relevant to me. Not military or Law Enforcement. If an instructor tells me there is no difference, then he has no credibilty.

I want an instructor who can teach to me. People learn different ways. If the instructor cannot teach different ways, he might as well not teach at all.

I want an instructor to communicate to me. Knowledge and experience are worthless if they cannot be conveyed to the student in an easily digestible way.

I want to know what the instructor's background is and how he arrived at his training doctrine/philosophy. Experience in and of itself does not give an instructor expertise. It gives them experience. Big difference. Did he develop his own or is he just parroting what he learned in (insert your favorite school here)? Can he support his contention with facts? Or is he just repeating what he has been told (citing the FBI UCR for example: the UCR does not address civilian shootings). Can he/she show me how and why his/her way is better or how it will benefit me. Many instructors will tell you that their technique/tactic will benefit you but cannot tell you how or support it with facts. No instructor has enough personal experience to be able to definitively tell you what it takes to win an armed confrontation. If they cannot support their position with facts, I would question how they arrived at their conclusion.

I want to know how he deals with doctrinal differences. If he makes disparaging remarks like "that's great on the 'Square Range' but real life is different", etc. then he has no credibility. If he believes his doctrine offers a better solution, he ought to be able to prove it, not spout it. Too many instructors just say "this is the only way to do it". Conversely, if they say "whatever works for you" they also lose credibilty. While there is certainly more than one way to do things, there is also a best way. If they cannot show me the best way or why their way is the best way, then how can they expect me to believe it?

I want an istructor who will at the end of the class leave me feeling like I knew more and have more proficiency than when I started the class.

It is too easy to become an instructor by credentials. Most are. But some of the best instructors aren't necessarily NRA certified. Like so many other things, it depends on the person, not the papers they have. Unfortunately, like many other things, most consumers don't appraoch shooting instruction from a true consumer standpoint. They accept what is taught without question, the offer the instructor the same reverence some do a doctor or attorney (and unquestioningly accept their opinions in the same way). I question them all. In the end, they work for me. I pay them and I expect them to deliver what I want. Conversely, I welcome the same from my students.

Sigma 40 Blaster
March 17, 2008, 06:08 PM
I don't want an instructor who teaches me "his stance", "his grip", and his other methods.

I want him to assess me and physical characteristics that I have going for, and against me, and help me the best way he or she knows how. If that best way happens to be the Weaver, isosceles, or whatever then so be it...I just don't particularly want to be a cookie cutter shooter. I'm too big to fit any mold lol.

I'd also like an instructor to have real and viable experience other than dropping big money at other training schools. Military, special forces, SWAT, and other types of experience like that have a wide knowledge, training, and experience base to draw from.

Double Naught Spy
March 17, 2008, 06:47 PM
Right, I don't want to be a clone of the instructor, but to have an instructor work with my skills and abilities, not to remodel me into something I am not.

Patience. Students don't always get the drill the first time or two and certainly not at the end of the day when the student is most tired. Instructors don't always seem to understand this. Just because they talked and fired 30 rounds over the course of the day and is still full of energy doesn't mean a student who has been in the class all day and fired 300 rounds isn't tired, potentially frustrated, and/or overloaded.

The ability to admit when the drill isn't working and revamp it on the fly.

...an instructor who doesn't start off his own introduction talking about his own ego and the fact that gun instructors have big egos. I have gotten this from Clint Smith, Ken Hackathorn, Tom Givens, and Dane Burns, to name a few. I personally could not care one iota what the instructor thinks of his own ego. I want to learn more about shooting.

...an instructor who treats the students with respect as clients, not a boots in boot camp.

Since I am paying big $ for a class, I expect the instructor to start on time, every time (each session, each day).

I like to see the instructors demo the same drills they expect us to do and to do them from the same distances. Many demo pistols from just feet from the target and then have students do the same drills from many times that distance and then note how the students aren't attaining the same results as the demo. Ken Hackathorn was really good about demoing the drills from teh same distance as the students were supposed to shoot them. When we moved back to 50 yards, he showed us what to do at 50 yards.

I like gun stories as much as the next guy, but I don't want to trade range time for story time when range time is very finite. Save the stories for lunch, breaks, or going out after class.

Racist and sexist remarks have no place in class.

Instructors should not be hitting on students.

Instructors should not tell students their gear isn't up to standard if said gear wasn't disallowed from the class. It is stupid to be told to bring a rifle with a sling and then be told half way through the first day that your sling is the wrong type (then you find out the instructor sells slings...). If I need a 2 point sling for class, 3 point, or 1 one, then that should be in the requirements of the course. If I need the instructor's sling for the class, that should be in the requirements.

March 17, 2008, 07:00 PM
What I want in an instructor depends on what I'm there to learn.

- Basic shooting techniques, marksmanship, use of the sights, safety, etc. can all be taught by qualified NRA instructors. They can be accountants or janitors for all I care, as long as their instruction and communication is clear.

- CCW classes that include the legal, moral and ethical use of arms in CCW and basic shooting proficiency can also be taught by NRA instructors or people who are experienced carriers who know the laws. This isn't really instructing on a high-performance level, but to meet state requirements.

Once you get into the more advanced material, the instructor has more credibility if he's had a chance to employ the techniques he's teaching and knows first hand what can go wrong with them. If someone is teaching combat-shotgun but has never deployed one then I have to question his competence.

Instructors will generally teach a certain style, stance, grip, method, etc. That's fine, as long as they articulate why they teach that method as a proven one. Also they need to recognize "one sizes fits all" doesn't work. Certain techniques don't work for southpaws (and what's their left-handed solution!) while other people may be better off with their own stance with minor adjustments.

I had the luxury of being trained by a former FBI agent and every course of fire was done in these 5 steps...
1. Instructor verbally describes the course of fire while slowly going through the motions as a demonstration. At this point he reminds students of key elements (stance, forearm parallel to ground, use of barricade, etc.)
2. Students w/empty weapons do a dry-run a step at a time so the instructor can correct as needed.
3. Repeat twice, going a little faster each time.
4. One cycle through the course (1 mag) and pause for any corrections.
5. Full cycle through the course with debrief/corrections following.

A good instructor has a reason for every element he teaches. Some of these he may impart to students during classroom training (e.g. why a line thru the grip up the center of the forearm) and others when on the line where he can demonstrate (e.g. how to use a telphone pole for cover).

Lastly, I prefer instructors who don't have a lot of ego tied up in their courses. If you ask why things are done "His Way" instead of the way you were taught, he should be happy to articulate his reasons. Without getting grumpy about useful but older techniques or smarmy about the qualifications of a previous instructor.

March 17, 2008, 07:08 PM
You don't need an instructor, you need a facilitator that does what you want, how you want!!:rolleyes:

Deaf Smith
March 17, 2008, 07:22 PM
What ever they teach, they have better be good. I do me GOOD at what they teach. Not expecting a world champ, but a champ no less in skill.

How can you expect someone to know what they talk about but can't do? I have seen twice 'assistant' instuctors that definatly were not good (yet they wore the right 'tactical' gear.) Yes, I expect the assistants to be good to. I detest paying $400/500 bucks plus ammo, plus expenses, and they talk the talk but not walk the walk.

And yes, I expect them to outdo virtually the whole class.

Simple as that.

Beyond that, I expect the teacher to know how to teach (hopefully they have had course in it, cause teaching is not easy.)

March 17, 2008, 07:33 PM
I do prefer it when somebody instructing me is better at the subject than I am, since it gives me more confidence in his abilities, at first.

However, I have had very good instructors, who did not necessarily perform as well as I did, whether at the range, on the mat, or in the cockpit. While they may not have been able to shoot as accurately, execute as effective an iriminage, or recover from a stall with as little altitude loss, they all had this in common:

They could evaluate my performance, and teach me how to improve it.

So, in the longer view, I don't care so much how well an instructor can perform, as I care how much he can help me improve my own performance.

Do you really think a golf pro is going to outshoot Tiger Woods? Yet he benefits when he has a coach evaluate his swing. Similarly, I don't expect my 68yo uncle to be able to shoot like he once did; his eyes aren't as good, and his body isn't as strong as it once was. But could he watch a shooter at the range, and offer solid advice on how to fix a flinch or pull? Most certainly.



PS I've been able to improve the performances of people who were my superiors, from time to time, in different fields.

PPS Some of the best baseball managers and football coaches were just average players, but they have good observational and analytical skills. Sometimes their relative lack of physical dominance made them really hone those skills.

March 17, 2008, 09:31 PM
ok but no names

don't try to change me shooting from one hand to the other. If I come to you a left handed shooter don't try to make me into a born again right handed shooter because I am right eye dominant.

Give me a chance to show you what I can do with what I have.

If your skill level is greater than mine. critque me on how I might get better. Don't say that it is just wrong (unless it is unsafe) show me how I can do better. ask me how I think I did, tell me what you observed and how I might have done it better.

I went to a course this time last year and the instructor only liked my rifle. He didn't like my sling, my gun light, my ammo, my lubrication or my stance. But the final test of his course I was only down 23 points and the one cloest to me was down 40+ points.

don't call names, and don't tell folks to take a giant step into the nineties with the equipment they are using.

If you say you have a qualfication test before class then make everyone take it.

Ideally have a class outline so that I will know what I can expect to learn.

I have been to speed classes where I decreased my speed by 49% in one day but we took a pretest and and post class test to measure the difference.

One of the better classes had a wrap up session on what you learned and then what you did not like and what could have been better. at least two instructors have done that and it was refreshing to bring points home and to let the instructor know of problems or issues.

this post is wrth all that you paid for it, your mileage may vary. LM

March 17, 2008, 10:59 PM
Bottom line is, "can you teach?"

I've had flight instructors many moons ago that could fly like Lindbergh, Yager and Top Gun all put together, but couldn't teach you the difference between the mixture and throttle.

Likewise, some of the best shots I ever saw in the elite units of the military couldn't teach--however, this was somewhat more rare as most chiefs and sergeants CAN teach because teaching is part of their job.

I agree with Double Naught Spy--leave the ego in the filing cabinet or gun safe. You can list your qualifications on the intro sheet. Same for telling war stories--those are fine for lunch of afterwards, not while the money clock is ticking.

But above all, communicate right off the bat that your goal is to help each and every single student in your class/workshop/seminar leave your class an improved shooter so that they feel that they got their money's worth.


Double Naught Spy
March 17, 2008, 11:23 PM
You don't need an instructor, you need a facilitator that does what you want, how you want!!

What, just because I am no longer willing to accept the status quo?

Accepting the status quo is what I see wrong with a lot of students and gun schools. So many of the students are just so happy and amazed to be at a gun school, to be meeting a real firearms instructor (especially if he has published an article or two in a gun rag), to be able to shoot in manners they don't get to practice at their home ranges (rapid fire, shooting on the move, drawing from the holser, etc.), that they will claim the gun school experience was great. Most have so little experience that they don't know the difference between what is or is not good instruction. So many can't even give decent feedback to the gun schools on how they can be improved because they honestly don't have the insight.

As a paying client, investing anywhere between $400-1500 for a class (instruction) plus hundreds in ammo, travel, etc., dealing with time off from work, family arrangements, etc., I am there for me and I expect the experience to be productive and professional. Just because somebody has a gun school shingle hung out doesn't mean they offer a productive and professional training experience.

...not while the money clock is ticking.

No kidding. For me personally, one of the most expensive courses I had involved just over $2000 in total expenses for 40 hours of instruction. That translates to $50 an hour. The last course I took ran just under $1500 total expense for 24 hours which comes out to $62.50 and hour. These numbers are for going to bigger name schools/instructors. It is much cheaper on the local level, spending $200-300 for an 8 hour day of instruction (instruction, ammo, gas) which comes out to $25-37.50 an hour.

Do I want to get my money's worth? Damn straight.

Shadi Khalil
March 17, 2008, 11:25 PM
I know first hand that the OP can teach....

I come from a long line of teachers, I know that patience and being able to incorparte peoples styles and learning methods into your instruction is important if you want to be able to get through to people. that means alot of individual attention, even I a big class. It takes a great teacher to do that. This is what Tom does. My father teaches Arabic to speical forces and contractors going over seas, when I was telling him about my expericnce with Tom, he as able to recoginze the meathod of teaching he was using (i cant remember what tech. term he used). That's pretty good, Tom, I dont remember you mentioning a teaching degree.......l :p

March 18, 2008, 12:41 PM
for me it is the investment of time. money is important, but I can always make more money. I can't make up for the time wasted, when I already know how to draw and we spend an hour or two on presentation and holstering.

why was I there --cause instructors (most ) don't accept other classes from other instructors as credentials of any learning. They want you to take their basic course first.

IMHO be up front and tell me what you offer. that will help me decide if the class is for me Don't use words or terms no one can define. that clouds the whole issue.

Hold the class, if you publish a date then hold the class. I have driven 75 miles checked into a motel and showed up at the prescribe time the next day only to find out that someone should have called me that the class was cancelled. gun shei get that AS?(I did get my money back after a while)

as a instructor hold up your end, do what you say you are going to do.

my .02 LM

March 18, 2008, 02:06 PM
1. I want the instructor to demonstrate it to me, live fire. Part of the way people learn is by watching. If you can't put it in the X-ring on demand, then you shouldn't be instructing.

2. Don't tell me "this is the only right way to do X." Instead, give me the alternatives, tell me the advantages/disadvantages of each and give me your recommendation. For example, some schools teach that the only way to charge the chamber during an emergency reload is to cycle the slide. Ayoob teaches you how to do it by cycling the slide, how to do it using the slide stop, the arguments for each method, his recommendation, and then tells you to pick one way and stick with it. Guess which instructor I respect more?

3. I expect the instructor to maintain a safe shooting line and to take swift and severe disciplinary action against a student when necessary.

4. Don't spend a lot of time pontificating and telling war stories. I came to learn, not watch you buff up your ego.

5. Send me home with a list of drills, so that I can maintain some of the skills that I learned in class.

March 19, 2008, 04:29 PM
I want the instructor to teach to me. Not the lowest common denominator of knowledge/ability in the class.

To me this can only be done if the course/instructor has preset, published skill sets required to attend the course. If the total description of a particular course has nothing to do with the cirriculum, then it is a waste of time and money.

Ask graduates of particular schools what they learned, what they wanted to learn and what would have made the class better; then put this in writing so I have no total surprises. I get as much from graduates as I do from the advertising in picking out schools/instructors.

March 30, 2008, 10:03 PM
1) Acknowledge up front to your class, say out loud to them, and believe in your heart that they are paying BIG money and time away from their families to be with you.

2) Write on a big piece of butcher paper while telling your students, "Today, you're going to leave here knowing these [X] things." Then write them down. At the end of the day, pull out that big butcher paper and cross them off while reviewing.

3) Being patient and compassionate doesn't cause your program to suffer or create safety problems. I get treated like crap all the time - I won't fork over money for the privilege. I guess that means 'be approachable.'