Thursday, June 20, 2013

So, what makes a good instructor?

So, you’ve got the bug! Good for you. After a few short weeks of diving your socks have been blown off by all the amazing underwater encounters you’ve had and you’re already looking beyond Rescue Diver to Divemaster and beyond into the dizzying realm of the instructor. Some frantic googling and a bit of research later and you now have a mapped out route to diving greatness. Giddy-up. But like everything else you do, you want to be good at it right? So what does make a good instructor?
                Think back to your Open Water course and how much fun it was. After all, it’s what hooked you on diving in the first place and started you off down the path to diving awesomeness. What was it that made the instructor so memorable? The way she got information to sink in? How cool he looked (vitally important as you will later learn in your IDC - Instructor Development Course). Or perhaps the way she managed to save your happy ass on numerous occasions as you bumbled off into the blue blissfully unaware of everything around you? Perhaps it was all of these things.
                A good diving instructor, as with any decent instructor really, needs to have 3 core qualities as a basic prerequisite:

1.       The knowledge and skills to teach the subject.
2.       A passion for what you will be teaching.
3.       Good people skills.

The Knowledge
Well obviously if you are going to teach anybody about anything it really helps if you know what you’re talking about in the first place. Luckily for you the Divemaster Course is going to give you a lot of information above and beyond your average recreational diver. You will cover diving physics, physiology, the RDP and decompression theory, diving skills and dive environment. This knowledge is basically the same as what an instructor knows and will give you a solid foundation for the IDC.

A Passion
There’s no doubt that the best educators are the ones who are deeply passionate and enthusiastic about their area of expertise. Makes sense right? If you love what you do then being able to share this with others is a pleasure and never a chore. And you love diving. Perfect.

People skills
You may be the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic diver in the world but if you not exactly a people person then you may not be suited to teaching diving. As a dive instructor you will be dealing with all kinds of people from all walks of life and from all over the world. In many ways it will be the ultimate test of your people skills. Some students will be great off the bat. Others may need a little extra help and encouragement. And others may be…  well, wait and see.

So far so good. You’re enthusiastic. Soon to be knowledgeable. And a great people person. But hold your horses champion, there are a few other things worth bearing in mind. There is a lot of competition to work in the top dive destinations such as the Maldives, Indonesia and the Red Sea. Don’t expect to be shipping off there the day after your instructor exams. Unless of course you can fluently speak 5 languages. Which is one of the most valuable skills you can have as a diving instructor as it will often get you into the more exotic far flung destinations. You may well have to cut your teeth somewhere a little closer to home at first. But this is ok as it gains you valuable experience.

The whole “living the dream” lifestyle is not always as sweet as it sounds. There will be days, especially in low season, when you might find yourself scrubbing barnacles off the bottom of a boat, or mopping the floor in the toilet. Or rebuilding that old outboard that’s been sat in the compressor room for 8 months. All of these things are vital to running a thriving dive business and good people usually don’t mind rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in to help out. But be prepared to walk away from any establishment that has you doing this all the time. It’s not what you became a dive pro for. The point is, you sometimes have to take the rough with the smooth in this game.

Beyond the 3 core prerequisites what else makes really great instructor? Well, I mentioned languages, which can open doors to those more exotic locations. But languages themselves won’t make you a great instructor. Here then is another list of things that separate the great from the good.
1.       A good sense of humour.
2.       Understanding of divers needs.
3.       Ability and willingness to learn.
4.       Look cool at all times.

Sense of humour.
There will be days that, despite your meticulous planning and ruthless attention to detail, things don’t quite go according to plan. The weather has taken a turn for the worse and your first choice of dive site is now out of the question. Or the boat was loaded with empties instead of full tanks. These mishaps can put a downer on things, for sure, but how you deal with them is what marks you out as a great instructor. And a good sense of humour is a vital part of this. Plus it’s good to be funny!

Understanding of divers needs.
I’ve seen this before on more than one occasion. Here’s the scenario. You’re a dive guide in the Red Sea and it’s June, which is whale shark and manta season, and your guiding the boat for the day which is off to the world famous Ras Mohammed National Park. On board are a group of photographers armed to the teeth with strobes, macro lenses and a burning desire to find a Long-Horned Nembrotha and photograph it to within an inch of its life. You know that the best chances of finding such a beast are on Ras Ghozlani but there are thousands of schooling snapper, batfish, baracuda and unicorn fish on Shark Reef and you love that dive site, it’ll be amazing!

So what do you do? Tell them that they are just as likely to find one on Shark Reef as they are on Ras Ghozlani and drag them round the front of an 800m deep wall while you clown around with the batfish or do you head for Ras Ghozlani and its sandy bottom because that’s where you are going to find your divers a Nembrotha even though, for you at least, it will be a far less exciting dive? Sounds easy huh? You’d be surprised. Looking after you guests is your numero uno priority and that means understand what they want, need and desire and how best to accommodate that. And although not a skill as such, it is a highly desirable attribute.

Looking cool at all times
You can keep your flying overalls and your captain’s uniform. The real cool is found at 40m (142ft) resplendent in black neoprene, blacked out mask and long sexy fins. Yes, looking cool has never looked so cool. And as a diving professional it is vital that you maintain the reputation of not just yourself, but your peers, at all times. This means staying trim. Growing long hair. And wearing long fins. We have a very cool job. Accordingly we must BE cool.

So there you have it. A basic summary of things that could help you be a great instructor. One final piece of advice…  you may have noticed something throughout this blog. Nearly all of what I have mentioned comes under attitude. And that is the most valuable thing you can have if you want to be considered one of the greats among diving professionals. The right attitude!

Happy diving!

By Terry Nichols
Terry has been diving for over 25 years and is a PADI Master Instructor. He has logged well in excess of 5000 all over the world.