Swift | Silent | Deadly

Even More Instructorship Lessons

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I recently mentioned attending some outdoor Search & Rescue training. The class wasn’t bad but there was definitely some poor instructor behavior. I’ll be honest, I thought I had seen it all until began attending public safety training. Here are a few instructorship lessons that may help make your classes better.

Even More Instructorship Lessons

A few years ago I wrote an article called Lessons Learned as a Professional Instructor. This article is still one of my favorite pieces of writing. If you are an instructor of any type I think you should read it. At the time I thought that article pretty much covered it all. As time goes on and I attend more classes I realize that it doesn’t. I’m constantly picking up a new lesson here or there. Today I’m going to share a few I recently observed.

This probably just sounds like a list of complaints. It is and it isn’t. I am unhappy with some aspects of this course. More importantly, though, I hope some of these instructorship lessons land. I have included a “fix” to all of the problems listed here. I hope some of you instructors or folks thinking of becoming instructors take these lessons to heart. Apply the “fix” and you will absolutely be a better instructor.

Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

I have noticed this in the past but it hasn’t really jumped out at me like it did in this class. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this is pretty common behavior. It goes something like this. A student will askĀ  question or the instructor will mention something in passing. The instructor, not prepared to teach it at that moment will say something like, “we’ll cover that tomorrow.” Then tomorrow comes and it’s never mentioned.

As a student this is really frustrating. It happened in this class then one of the instructors said, “there is plenty of natural fatwood in the woods where we’ll be camping. I’ll show you guys how to find it.” I was super excited about this. But once we were out on the campout it was never mentioned again. At one point I asked about it and was told something like, “oh, you can usually find it in a pine stump,” and the instructor moved on.

The Fix

When you tell students you’re going to teach them something you create an expectation. Though it may seem like a throwaway line to you, some student in your class is really excited about getting that knowledge. Make sure you actually deliver it; fail to teach it and your students will walk away disappointed. If you say you’re going to teach it, follow through. If you can’t follow through, don’t promise it. Or better yet, don’t even mention it.

Don’t Smother the Pretty Student

Man, it seems like I shouldn’t even have to say this. Apparently I do, though. The class had several female students. During the fire-building test one instructor took a particular interest in one of them. He helped her collect her firewood and told her exactly which stick to break and feed into the fire. He told her where to put each stick, and where to blow into the fire. He was still standing there when she had boiled water and was putting out her fire.

In the meantime at least four students were seriously struggling. Two of the four didn’t even have a fire going yet. Additionally, two of the four were trying to boil water in insulated, double-walled cups. The fire-building instructor did a huge disservice to these students. He spent all his time with the attractive female at the expense of students who genuinely needed help.

This “pretty” student happens to be a real close friend of mine. She’s a full-time cop and a part-time EMT. She’s a really capable human being. I talked to her afterward about it and she was keenly aware that it looked a certain way to other students, and that others weren’t getting any instructor attention at all. Not only that, she also knew how to build a fire and didn’t need or want the instructor to do it for her.

The Fix

If you teach long enough you will run across a student who you find attractive. It will happen. Please keep it to yourself and behave professionally. The student in question will certainly appreciate it more than you smothering them. The rest of the class will appreciate it, too, because they’ll get some actual instruction.

An even better philosophy would be to ensure that all of your students get roughly equal time. It will never be perfectly equal, but strive for equal time. Even your students performing at a high level would still like to improve – that’s why they are seeking your instruction. Everyone who is investing their time and money to be in your class should get some personalized instruction from you.


I had heard about this course long before attending. The two instructors are legendary in the state for their wilderness classes and annual “wilderness week.” Long before I knew either of them I knew who they were by reputation. So when we went to the field I was looking forward to soaking up a lot of knowledge. Unfortunately I learned first hand that neither one of these men is a great instructor or organizer.

When we got to the campout we set up camp…then we tested. In fairness we had spent a lot of time on land navigation during the classroom portion. But the fire and shelter portions weren’t taught at all – we were just told to build a fire and throw up a shelter. This was extremely disappointing to me. I really wanted the knowledge these men possessed. I had really hoped to learn from them. Unfortunately they chose to do very little actual instructing.

The Fix

If you are an instructor, take pride in how much information you can convey to your students. This isn’t the same as how much you can present – you can throw facts and statistics and information at them all day. The true test is how much you convey. I will offer a couple examples in this case.

I would have loved it if the instructors had led us to some spot in the woods where they had erected various shelters. This would have allowed students to see the pros and cons of various styles, methods, materials, etc. It would have given the instructors an opportunity to show students tips and tricks. It would have been a great way to convey stuff that PowerPoint just can’t quite do. This isn’t the only way it could have been taught, bu other than the slides read off a PowerPoint, it wasn’t really taught at all.

If you’re an instructor take this to heart: you aren’t teaching just by showing up. Teaching is hard work. It takes effort and planning. If you aren’t willing to put some energy into making sure students walk away with more knowledge than they showed up with, you’re probably in the wrong line of work.

Closing Thoughts

In the past I have mentioned respecting students’ time. It’s so important it’s worth mentioning again – it’s the most important of the instructorship lessons here. When students show up to your classes they are trusting you with their hard-earned money. More importantly, they are trusting you with their time.

Though most don’t value it, I value time as my most precious commodity. The days of my life are slipping by – unless I live to an exceptionally old age, half my life is already gone. Every day that goes by is one that is gone forever. I will never get those days back, and your students will never get the time they spend with you back. Make it worth it to them.

Make it your mission to give students maximum value for the the time they spend with you. It is an honor when a student voluntarily spends his or her time in your classroom. Recognize that that and make every effort to repay it with value and you’ll definitely be on the right track.

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