Be a good instructor

Claude, I really like your blog, I have been a fan and a reader, since I saw it linked over at

I’m scheduled to get my NRA certification as a firearms instructor for basic pistol next month.

Do you have any advice for me, in starting out as an instructor?

My main recommendation would be to continuously improve your knowledge and skills. I can’t tell you how many NRA Instructors I know who haven’t
read a single gun book beyond the NRA manuals, have never taken another
class, and who don’t do anything to measure and improve their skills.

My personal library has over 400 books about guns, shooting, tactics, police work, and military history. The subjects run the gamut from appropriate rifles for African hunting in the early 20th century to analyses of the effects of using deadly force by the shooter. My collection has over 100 DVDs in it too. Granted that took me over 40 years to accumulate but it’s indicative of what I try to know about the subject. Many instructors have neither depth nor breadth to their repertoire. They learn one set of skills at a mediocre level and stop there. I see it time and again. That’s a mistake; never stop learning.

I take classes from others regularly, frequently just short evening courses. Those short evening courses are how we are going to begin to reach the majority of new gunowners. And, even if someone else’s class is terrible, like one I took at an indoor range last week, you get important insight about how NOT to do things. Learn from others’ mistakes as well as your own.

With regard to measuring one’s skills, I think it’s important for everyone to benchmark where you are and try to improve that continuously. For an instructor, it’s doubly important. There are a lot of different benchmarks you can use, just having one is the important thing. Shoot it periodically and try to get better at it. You may find that the benchmark you use changes over time to something more challenging and that you have multiple benchmarks that measure different aspects of shooting. One of the main advantages of shooting in competition is that you find out you’re not as good as you think you are. Ego is the Achilles heel of many shooters and instructors.

I also think it’s important to demonstrate drills for the class. Time dependent, it doesn’t have to be all of them, but the first drill and any complex drills should be demonstrated. People are visual learners, for the most part. Telling people how to perform a physical skill is simply not as effective as showing them, IMO. And don’t take your subject matter knowledge for granted about what constitutes a ‘complex’ drill. I have had very intelligent students who couldn’t figure out what the NRA MQP drills were until I demonstrated for them.

PA snub crop 2

Have an inert gun to do this, where it’s appropriate. If it’s livefire, I use a live gun. If I’m demonstrating gunhandling or tactics, the inert gun comes out. I have both of them on me when I’m teaching.

Most importantly, don’t get complacent about anything. Your skills, safety, communication, etc. need to be at the forefront of your mind whenever you’re teaching. Every story we hear about an instructor having a Negligent Discharge or shooting a student in class has complacency as its root. Complacency is a killer, don’t go there.

Structured shooting is a whole new world for most people. Help them understand it in every way you can.

8 responses

  1. Reblogged this on The Obsession Engine and commented:
    My friend and mentor provides advice about instruction that applies to any subject.

  2. The standard advice I give new instructors is “find the best instructor that’s active in your area. Take a class from that person to observe how they teach and how they run the range. Then find out if you can work as assistant to that person, rather than just stepping out on your own.” I encourage everyone I train as NRA instructors to come work as an unpaid intern on my team to assist with classes. The NRA program is OK but in my opinion anyone trying to step out on their own as a lead instructor really needs more development time and mentoring to have any chance of doing a credible job — even if that person is experienced as an instructor in topics other than firearms.

    1. I agree with that 100%.

      When I graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course, a member of the cadre gave us this advice. “The Course only provides you with entry level skills so that you’re not too dangerous to other members of the Team. You have a long way to go before you’re really Special Forces soldiers.”

      The same is true of firearms instruction courses, and not just the NRA.

  3. When once asked for input on how to ID and select LE firearms instructors, and what to expect of them, I offered this elsewhere. Much seems pertinent here:

    1. They are continuous students and learners themselves. They attend continuing ed regularly, both when offered by the employer and on their own nickel as well.

    2. They are effective communicators with genuine interest in others. If not already instructor cadre in other subject areas, an FTO, etc they are regarded by others as the go-to guy when someone needs help. They continually seek improvement of their skills in this regard as well.

    2. They are not necessarily the best shooters, but are in pursuit of constant improvement. They shoot guns deliberately. They challenge themselves with training, higher standards, and competition. If they draw a box of practice ammo, they can show you results and not just brass.

    3. They actually integrate firearms and related skills in their duty and off-life. They actually carry guns, and don’t just stick them in a glove box when they travel.

    4. They want the FI job not as a mechanism for their own shooting and development, but to help bring others home at the end of the day.

    5. They have a history of responsible uses of force in the field, and safe behavior with firearms.

    6. They work hard, especially at thankless tasks and to frustrating ends.

    7. They are not dogmatic or a disciple.

  4. The timing for this post and the associated great comments couldn’t be any better. I just signed up for the NRA Basic Instructor Training class, and hope to complete the Pistol Instructor course shortly after that.

    If I make it through these courses, are there any other pistol classes that can further my training as an instructor?

    1. I would highly recommend Tom Givens’ Rangemaster Instructor Development Courses.

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