Recognising a good instructor when you meet one

In the good old days training was conducted in a military manner.  Barked orders and stern reprimands were the methodology of the day.  Thankfully a more laid back approach to training is now pervasive. However, an instructor who is the life and soul of the party and the student’s best friend may not be doing their job either.  How do you identify a good instructor? Your real focus should be on teaching ability and style. Here’s some pointers on what to look for:-

People skills.

The first thing that you should find is that your instructor is easy to speak to.  You should feel comfortable asking questions. A good teacher won’t spend classroom time standing still, reading notes.  They will interact with the trainees and make eye contact. They should be patient with “dumb” questions and clumsy performance.

Individual attention.

Ask how the instructor will handle it if you have problems learning a task.   They should understand that people learn at different rates and should offer to spend extra time if it’s required to master a skill.  If they reply to by saying “Don’t worry, you won’t have any problems.” Then they’re letting their ego get in the way. 

Empathy.

The good instructor understands that it’s reasonable for new students to have some fears  – whether they are justified or not and will reassure them rather than heightens fears by telling ‘war stories’ about terrors of the deep.  Anyone instructor who peppers his conversations with anecdotes of this nature is again more interested in his ego than in you. 

Experience.

Good teachers are not made in a day. For how many years has he been an instructor? An assistant instructor? A divemaster? A diver? Does your instructor seem to teach from his own experiences or does he regurgitate the course manual?

Organization.

The class should keep moving without irrelevant digression. The instructor should be following a lesson plan which is fun but structured.  The aims and objectives of which should be clear to you at the start and finish of each classroom session. 

Punctuality.

The instructor should show up on time and prepared to start the class. He should end on time too, and not early. Avoid any instructor who appears to over enjoy partying.  Nothing should be more important to them than teaching you skills on which your life will depend and for which you are paying them to teach.

The following are also worth enquiring about when considering which dive school you should choose:-

Class size.

How many students per instructor will there be on your course.  A maximum of 6-8 is plenty. Any more, you may spend too much time hanging around, waiting and receive too little individual attention.

An assistant instructor.

If the class is large will there be an assistant instructor on hand to help out without holding up the class? 

Lots of water time.

You learn by doing, not by reading about it. Make sure you check that an Open Water Diver course contains the PADI required four open-water dives.  It’s also well worth finding out where you will be diving, are the four dives in the same location?  Or are they in different dive sites?

A fair price.

How much does it cost, and are there any extras such as purchasing PADI manuals etc.? Price shouldn’t be your primary concern (you’ll find most dive schools offer similar prices), but one course may be cheaper  than another.  However, if you have any doubts about the  instructor or the school then taking a cheaper course to save a few hundred baht is definitely a false economy.  An excellent instructor and enjoyable diving experience are always worth the price.