… just as soon as you get OW certified!?
Do you remember your first reaction to being able to breathe underwater? What was the first thing you wanted to do when you caught sight of a coral head liberally seasoned with tiny, multi-colored bait fish? When your instructor handed you your very first c-card, did you get a strong urge to swap places with them?
Judging by regular postings on any one of the various scuba forums and diving message boards in Cyberland, a fair percentage of newly-minted divers suffer through an overwhelmingly strong urge to replace their current situation with the “romance and glamour” of life as a scuba instructor on a warm beach someplace exotic and far away from the nine-to-five rat-race, the daily commute along clogged highways, and the vagaries of a climate that features seasons… especially cold ones.
The wording of their memos varies a little but the core message goes something like: “I have just got my XYZ open-water diver certification, and I have decided to become a scuba instructor! Can you give me some advice?” Occasionally, time is mentioned, too, as in, “I already have six dives under my belt and have enrolled in the XYZ professional scuba school so that I can become a scuba instructor next week…”
Ah, who can blame them? I am not sure if diving is truly unique among “lifestyle” sports in this regard, but it really is quite amazing that scads of recent inductees to our little community (some still waiting for the mail to bring them the piece of plastic that tells the world they are a paid-up and checked-out member) want to teach others how to do it.
You simply have to love that level of enthusiasm, and when any of us get a chance to reply, we should take these requests seriously and actually try to help. However, I admit that my reaction can be harsh sometimes. I have a slightly jaded perspective, and my view of the scuba industry—through what’s left of the rose-tinted spectacles I started out with—is clouded by the much less attractive hard-edged primary colours of the real world.
Those of you who do actually teach scuba professionally—regardless of which level and to whom and where—will probably agree that the romance is a little white lie from a V-P of marketing someplace, and the glamour of climbing into slightly damp, slightly stinky drysuit underwear on day four of a six-day CCR Cave Program is severely limited. However, teaching people to dive has its moments...
Okay, so let’s put all that aside and instead, let’s concentrate on what advice we should give the neophyte diver who is hell-bent on becoming a diving professional, because “Forget about it!” or “You must be kidding” are simply unfriendly and unhelpful.
Your mileage may vary, but here are my suggestions for the enthusiastic new-comer who thinks being a diving instructor is something they simply have to do. These are things that a prospective employer (shop owner, resort operator or punter looking for an instructor) will probably find appealing. Oh, and a quick qualifier: these suggestions assume that the perspective instructor considers teaching others to dive is a business rather than a charitable service.
Curiosity and empathy
The first and most important requirements (because we are taking enthusiasm as a given) are curiosity and empathy. I put curiosity first on the list because teaching—whether the topic is scuba diving or applied mathematics or car repair—requires both the student and instructor to have a real desire to learn.
And certainly, a new instructor has a lot to learn. Perhaps the most engaging thing about diving and certainly about teaching it is just how much there is to discover. Most of what presents itself for discovery is about people and how they react to being underwater… little of which is covered in your average diving textbook.
It is curiosity and what’s uncovered by the curious instructor that adds value to a bare-bones scuba class taught by the incurious and complacent or—worse yet—fed-up instructor. The ins and outs of diving at a basic level really are not that complex: breathe in, breathe out, repeat, surface slowly. However, these skills are surprisingly difficult to get across to the average student regardless of how strong their internal motivations might be.
Education is about changing behaviour, and as long as the person delivering the education understands that different people respond differently to the same stimuli—and is enthusiastically curious as to why—most other things fall into place… sometimes.
Empathy is just as important, if for nothing else, for the times when things do not fall into place.
The most common trait shared by successful instructors is empathy with the people they are charged with looking after—and make no mistake, a class filled with open-water scuba students take some looking after.
The most common failing of instructors who do not enjoy success is lack of empathy. Just my opinion, but even at the most complex, risky, elevated level of technical instruction, there’s room for understanding and empathy. The instructor’s job is to identify what part of breathing in, breathe out, repeat and surface slowly are challenging his or her student. Indifference to their plight is not going to help the process along.