Most responsible people who shoot regularly know that the learning curve can be greatly improved when you take training from a qualified instructor rather than trying to teach themselves from youtube videos and articles on gun forums. And hopefully most people realize that we can certainly practice, practice, practice what we know but cannot train ourselves since practice is nothing more than repeating perfectly what you have been trained to do.
When it comes to self-defense training is even more important in that during a violent encounter you will sink to your lowest level of training, and if you have had none, that will be your lowest level.
Selecting an Instructor
Finding a quality instructor is not that easy really since in the firearms instruction business there are no barriers to entry and anyone can get a rudimentary certification and hang out a shingle. When you have come to the level of learning where you are consciously incompetent, meaning you know you don’t know and you want to learn it is wise to determine what your training goals are and what you hope to obtain in training. Different instructors offer different areas of expertise for instance let’s say you want to compete, you might seek an instructor who is or has been a national level competitor. On the other hand let’s say you want to go to work with a LE agency, you might seek an instructor who has been a LEO or still is. There is a decided difference in study and expertise between competition shooting, law enforcement, military and self-defense. When you look at the four different realms keep in mind your purpose and objective, if you want to be able to defend yourself in a violent encounter you should probably seek instruction from those whose sole focus and experience comes from that field. And now, the sort of defining factor, the instructor has to be able to quickly communicate to you those skills you are seeking for regardless of the instructors’ background and experience, if they cannot quickly teach you are only going to have a “range master” barking commands at you.
What is the Instructor/Schools level of experience as an Instructor?
If you found that you needed surgery would you select a Doctor that does 20 or 30 surgeries a year? Probably not because you know two things, the more someone does something generally speaking the better they do it over time and secondly, your life may depend on that persons success. The same really holds true to firearms Instructors. As mentioned earlier anyone can become an instructor, post a class listing and voila, I is an Instructor . . . and they may actually hold 20 to 40 group classes a year. When I personally seek instruction I look for a specific instructor who teaches 150 to 200 days a year because I know he is good at what he does, imparting knowledge to the student. I look for an instructor who is more interested in my learning than the number of bodies (read that as fees) that they are able to generate over a certain time period. The busier the instructor is, who is working with individuals rather than groups the better my chance of achieving my learning goals.
What is the stated focus of the School/Instructor?
For me, I am looking to learn how to be a better teacher so that is my focus and I look specifically to Instructors/Schools that train Instructors. When I started these learning process years ago I looked for Instructors who focused primarily on the area of expertise I was looking to learn. If you wish to play Spec Ops you might look for an Instructor/School that focuses on teaching military. If your objective is to become a better IDPA competitive shooter you might look for that kind of school. If you want to be able to defend yourself in a violent encounter I suggest you find an Instructor/School that focuses on that specific goal because one size does not fit all and all of the different shooting disciplines have distinctly different ways of doing things with firearms. If the Instructor does not state specifically there is a good chance they are a one size fits all mindset, that all types of shooting activities are the same.
What is the satisfaction level of former students?
Almost all Instructors receive good reviews; I mean after all who is going to demean publicly a person who knows how to shoot well. So how do you determine what the students think about the value they received? You could ask for a list of names to contact from say the last 10 to 15 classes they taught. If an Instructor would not be willing to do that for me I would wonder what it is they are trying to hide. You can always check their testimonials online but you have to be able to read between the lines and realize no one is going to outright bash a bad firearms Instructor, at least not publicly. You can also check with local ranges and gun stores, these people do not mind being honest because a quality instructor is beneficial to all in the business, if they know of a dirt bag they will not hesitate to tell you and most will steer you to Instructors they know the reputation of.
What class size are you willing to suffer?
Suffer? What does he mean suffer? Class size will determine how many strangers with guns you are going to have to interact with. Class size will determine based on the student/instructor ratio how much of the instructors’ actual time you will receive. As an example, there are 15 people in the class, it lasts eight hours and there is only one REAL instructor . . . you will receive in actuality less than one half an hour of that instructors attention and time during that day. I took a four day class once at a nationally known school, there were 50 shooters in my class and each day there was one Instructor and one assistant and on two days there were two assistants. So for those four days I received a total of less than one hour of the Instructors time, and I paid top dollar for the class . . . not the best return on my training investment. So in the end, you have to ask yourself how much of the Instructors attention do you want and that will help determine the class size you are willing to suffer,
What is the flexibility in terms of scheduling and location that you require?
Are you able to pick the day of the week that you want to take training? What about the week or month of the year? Most Instructors post a class date and that is it, you go that day or you don’t go. I’m not sure about you but my life requires just a bit more flexibility and unless I MUST have instruction from that ONE particular instructor, I have a hard time being tied down to their schedule. For me that means my selections become limited. I don’t like limited, do you?
What is the specific Instructors background as it relates specifically to teaching?
The objective to taking training is to learn and subsequently the Instructor must be able to teach. Because a person performed a firearms related job most of their lives does not mean they know how to teach. Teaching requires modifying your method of communication with each individual student to ensure the students understands the instruction and accomplishes the stated goals of the lesson. Sitting in a chair off to the side of the range barking Range Master orders through a megaphone to a line of shooters is not instructing. And just because the instructor explains something thoroughly does not necessarily mean the student understands. No student fails, only instructors fail. This means in essence that the quality instructor will have had in his background a proven level of success in training people in complicated tasks. But this does not imply in any way that the Instructor does not have to have a level of proficiency in the field they are teaching as it is a fine balancing act. A teacher/instructor succeeds the greatest when the students can surpass the Instructors personal ability. There is nothing more satisfying to me than to have a student out shoot me in an exercise or drill because it simply means I did my job well.
What is this going to cost?
I mentioned earlier in class size how much of the Instructors time do I receive. Firearms instruction is not a Walmart item, cheaper in bulk is not going to give you the best learning ability if your life is potentially on the line based on what you learn. There has to be a way to compare the value of different instructors/schools. Let’s use this as an example. You are going to pay $250 for a 16 hour course, and there will be two instructors and 20 students. That is the same as having one instructor for 10 students. Essentially you are going to receive 1.6 hours of the instructors dedicated time for $250, which means if you had the full dedicated attention of one instructor for 16 hours your real cost of instruction is $156.25 per hour of instructors’ time, or in reality you are receiving only 1.6 hours of individualized training. There is a reason Instructors like doing large classes, they make more money. If your instructor is more interested in how much money they make versus the amount of real instruction you receive, they might not be the best pick because in the end, YOU DO GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR and if your life could be on the line I for one am not going to make my decision based on purely cost.
This list is not in order of importance to me; it is just my thought process when I look to take firearms training for myself. I hope no one takes this post as an attack on some instructors, it is not meant in that manner but it is given in the same intent as we do our teaching, to ensure that the student gets the best possible, up to date training in personal self-defense because in the end, it is all about the student.