What Makes a Teacher?

learning-opportunities-300-197x300 Is it the certificate on the wall, the training to get the certificate, the mindset, or our actual knowledge of tactics that work for self-defense? Knowing tactics doesn’t make an instructor, of course, and it’s a shame that most of the training organizations that provide credentials for instructors don’t stress actual teaching of the material. I think the ability to transfer knowledge to a student is one of the biggest components of being an instructor. Certainly you need to know the material, but that in itself does not make an instructor. The instructor’s desire for knowledge should be an important component for the title.

How many of us realize that our students bet their lives on us as instructors and the knowledge that we convey to them? This is both a burden and an obligation. Instructors should see themselves as students and always seek to improve their knowledge of the subject matter they teach, education/learning methods, and the ideas or concepts that support the material they are teaching.

I teach Israeli Krav Maga, fighting, gun deployment, Combat Focus® Shooting, active shooter response, tactics, knife fighting and defense, and a host of other combative concepts. It is very important for me to consider the context in which I am teaching the material and to whom it is being taught. Rob Pincus coined this concept for me: “Fighting doesn’t happen in isolation or in a vacuum.” It is a dynamic event that changes rapidly based on variables that we don’t determine. The end-user students will likely have to use the tactics and concepts that we teach under extreme stress and in the surprise of an ambush, because that is the way actual fights happen.

A good teacher should watch for dangerous situations involving his students.

A good teacher should watch for dangerous situations involving his students.

Is the training that we deliver as instructors compliant with the student’s instinct? Does it work well with what the body does naturally? This is the basis of programs like Combat Focus® Shooting and represents an articulation of what makes “good training.” We teachers can recall classes we have attended as students. Some classes were good and some were poor. As teachers, we should continually seek to improve our skills and attend instructor development courses frequently. Being a professional instructor, attending classes is a different experience than it was when I was “only” a student.

I enjoy observing the teachers’ instruction styles and hearing the explanation of the material. I find that in my mind, I immediately challenge the material being presented. I think that is my curious nature, plus I have some very well-rooted points of reference in my own knowledge base. Some instructors make use of solid research, while others regurgitate the same concepts I was taught as a rookie police officer over 16 years ago. Is it possible that teaching material and efficient delivery haven’t changed over the years?

The truth is the truth. Maybe some things don’t change, but many things have evolved through conflict, failure and introspection. Certainly, teaching and delivery methods have made much advancement over the years.

Truly good teachers explain and do little demonstrating.

Truly good teachers explain and do little demonstrating.

I believe the first step to becoming a good teacher is to admit “I don’t know everything.” I consider myself my first student and treat my learning in this manner. I read, research material on the Internet, train myself and others, and go to as many instructor development schools as my time, money and energy will allow. At the time of this writing, I have had 418 hours of personal instructor development training this year, and will likely have 600 hours before the end of the year.

This may be on the extreme end of the scale, but I am in a unique position as a professional teacher to train as much as I do. I make it my priority (and yes, I have a supportive wife). This amount of training pays my practice of teaching big dividends. I feel that I am holding true to my ethics as a teacher, and I give each and every student the absolute best material I can provide. Tony Blauer of Blauer Tactical Systems has a relevant quote: “All teachers are like cat burglars. They’re always looking for something better to teach. If I learn something better today, I will be teaching it tomorrow.” We can all learn a lot from this statement.

If you are a true instructor and consider yourself a professional, take a moment to think about what you teach to people. Are your material and your presentation of it good, bad or indifferent? Do you have actual feedback from people who have used it in violent encounters? Have you used what you teach in conflict, fighting or a professional capacity? Is your material tested in class and conflict? Would you bet your life on it? If not, seek the truth and please don’t be responsible for getting someone killed. I believe that the answers are out there, but they are not always easy to find. If you are looking for a True Instructor, I hope you keep these things in mind and talk to your potential teachers about them. Respectfully.

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

Make a comment:
characters remaining

6 Responses to “What Makes a Teacher?”

  1. Cindy

    Could you please point us in the direction of instructor development training. Preferably online if possible. The ones you felt were the best or top notch.

  2. Gordon

    A piece of paper called a "certification" doesn't necessarily make a good teacher either. There's plenty of people out there that can teach but don't have the out rageous ly expensive piece of paper.

  3. RobPincus

    This is a Great Article with a lot of principles that we espouse in the Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development Program! Jeff, thanks for the request.... While PDN is primarily an end user education area, keep looking for instructor development video and articles in the new year as I'm sure we'll add a few!

  4. Jeff Morelock

    Great article. I would like to see more Instructor Level courses taught by the instructors featured on PDN. Keep up the good work.

  5. tarawa1943

    OUTSTANDING Article! Teachers are ever learning on their own, from others and their students, it is a continual iteration of study, application and learning. You can always learn a nugget of truth from someone that crosses your path in life.

  6. James Newman

    This is a great article and I wholeheartedly agree with what Robb Hamic said. Teachers need to be students too. It is obvious that this man "walks the walk" and challenges himself to be better. This is a good lesson for us all. Cross-training in different disciplines is also a good idea so that your depth of knowledge is greater. Another good article from PDN.