Don’t Play Instructor Roulette:
Finding Quality Firearms Instructors
As a new shooter, or a person new to any activity for that matter, choosing a good instructor should be the foundation for quickly developing the proper skills to succeed and enjoying the sport. But because you are a novice, how do you know what makes a good instructor? A good firearms instructor should be educated, experienced, reasonably priced and professional in relationship to their level of experience.
When choosing a shooting instructor, first look at the classes the instructor took to get them to where they are. Nearly every instructor will have the NRA Basic Instructor Training (BIT). This course teaches instructors how to teach NRA classes. This is fantastic if you are taking an NRA course, but what if the class you want is not NRA approved? There are other training facilities across the country that also offer high level instructor certifications that not only teach their instructor candidates to teach, but also a tried and true set of shooting skills to teach. If the instructor cannot pass the skills test, they are not certified by the organization. These type of schools include Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, Rangemaster Firearms Training Services, and A Girl and A Gun Women’s Shooting League.
Next, make sure that your potential instructor is continuing to learn no matter how long they have been teaching. The shooting industry is not a static sport as new equipment and techniques are being developed on a regular basis. The best instructors are actively looking for tips to improve their current classes and to develop new ones. They are learning from peers with similar styles to theirs and from instructors with different styles. Hopefully, these classes will include other local instructors, as well as nationally recognized instructors, like Massad Ayoob, Karl Rehn, Tom Givens and Tatiana Whitlock.
If you are taking a basic introduction class, then you should find an instructor who is slightly more developed than just that basic class. For example, if you would like to take the NRA Basic Pistol Class, then your instructor should be certified for that class, plus maybe NRA’s Personal Protection in the Home and Refuse to Be a Victim. You want them to be able to help if you get in over your head or have questions a tad outside the scope of the class.
You also want to know how long the instructor has been teaching and how many students they have taught. They may have been a certified instructor for 10 years having taught 100 students. That averages out to only 10 students per year. This might not be an instructor who is interested in helping you develop your skills beyond his/her class. (In this case, I would also ask how many student have they taught in the past year.) However, an instructor who has been certified only a year and has had 100 students may be perfect for your introduction class. These students are probably recommending this instructor to their friends. To keep everyone honest, ask your potential instructor if you can talk to a few of their recent graduates from the class you would like to take.
The best instructors in the country are asking $200-$300 for a one-day course. Your local instructors should be charging less. Instructors who do not fill classes may choose to increase their class price to cover the classroom rental or range fee that they cannot spread out to other students. Do not pay for their inexperience. Today, students have many options for reasonably priced, quality instruction.
On the other hand, do not nickel and dime an experienced instructor. If you pay a little bit more for a basic class, but get a well-known and respected instructor, I bet they will provide much more information appropriate to your skill level that will be well worth the additional investment.
I am a big believer in The Golden Rule, “Treat others as you want to be treated.” I expect that people in the service industry should be easy to contact, communicate in a timely manner, be good stewards of money, be polite and professional, and provide a quality product. As an instructor, it is my goal to offer this to my students. You may have other criteria. As a woman, a male instructor in tactical garb with a chest plate carrier and dozens of magazines Velcro’d across his torso may intimidate you. If it does, don’t take his class. Take classes from people who make you comfortable and relate to you.
Instructors should also be transparent, especially when it comes to safety and money. Safety should be a conversation in every aspect of their business, including offering a detailed list of safety equipment needed for their classes, liability forms, and safety briefs. They should also role model safety in all of their classes, rather than have a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. In addition, prior to handing over any money, make sure you know the instructor’s return policy in case you are not able to attend the class as scheduled. This can save a lot of headache and heartache in the future.
Most instructors have websites with a biography. Read their bio and do not be afraid to contact the instructor if you need more information regarding their background. Finding quality teachers is paramount to your learning. Great instructors will not only help you meet your current goals, but they will lift you in your journey to learn more.
(Read Sandy’s bio.)