If you notice, the title is not "The Training Officer" and your first thought is, what is the difference? Much. Your thinking of the old myth that an Instructor has to be certified from an accredited group such as IFSAC or ProBoard. But that myth is wrong and here is why. I myself, your blogger for the time being, is a Certified Fire Instructor from both Massachusetts and New Hampshire and I have the "Certs" to prove it but, does any of this make me a good or a better Instructor than anyone else? Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2014) defines an Instructor as "a person who teaches a subject matter or skill, someone who instructs other people" So let me ask the question, do you need to attend a Certified Instructors course, have that piece of paper and a frame around it to be able to teach a subject or someone a skill? Stop for a moment and think back, to an individual in your past who taught you a specific skill. Maybe your parents, relatives, Scout Master, or another firefighter. Were they Certified Instructors? Did they teach you something that has stayed with you all these years, something that has helped you perform better or sharper?
As an officer or firefighter can you be expected at certain times in your career, to teach a specific skill or help someone understand a certain subject area? Of course. The new "Probie" is assigned to your shift, the BC/AC asks that you show this new individual around the apparatus. Show them the complete in's and out's of the rig so that when the "bell" goes off, they are prepared and ready to operate. So lets take this same scenario, in place it will be some of today's firehouses, ready? You look at the BC/AC and refuse on the grounds that not only are you not "certified" but that you are "senior" and its not your job? You don't want to take on this responsibility in case the probie screws up at a scene. If this is the case then the person refusing needs a little dose of reality by going back to their first year on the job. How did they learn the ropes and the tricks of the trade? Was it a certified Instructor who taught you how to do your job correctly, safely, or was it another member who happened to be proficient on the subject taught? Lets say a new or even a senior member of the department comes to you in confidence, asks for help or advice. They want to learn all about operating a new piece of equipment that was just purchased but they are smart enough to realize they are not proficient enough and lack the confidence on its operation. They realize that you have studied up on it, know the in's and out's and are 100% comfortable using it, operating it. Your job now is to show them and explain everything they will need to know how to operate it safely. To teach them to the best of your ability all they need to know and to keep safe while using it. Answering any and all questions they might have and to make sure they feel comfortable in performing their duties.
As a good Teacher/Mentor/Instructor/Etc you need to posses five critical skills - 1. Knowledge 2. Patients 3. Commitment 4. Good Communications 5. Motivation.
What is knowledge? Knowledge is knowing your subject matter inside and out, feeling confident that you will be able to answer correctly, questions that will arise. You need to have a "true" understanding of the subject at hand and never BS'ing your way through, ever. You need to be upfront and honest with your students, for example, if there is a gray area your not familiar with or you lack the information to answer a question properly, you must to let the student know this and do your best to obtain the info as soon as possible. Remember, you don't have to have a PH.d to instruct someone but you do need to have a background or a working history on the subject.
Instructing can and will be frustrating at times. You will always get one or two (or more) students who just do not want to learn a subject or who may even have a Learning Disability. You will experience every Instructors favorite, the "Class Clown" or even better the "I've seen and done it all," (just look at my helmet I put in the oven) student. That's when you need to take a long, deep, breath and let it out slowly because its going to be a long course. Remember, the students are looking to you for not only knowledge and guidance but also keeping the class under control so everyone learns without disruption. If you loose your cool in front of them, then you loose them completely. Always try and take the one your having the problems with aside and alone and do the one on one thing.
As a good mentor, you need to be committed to not only the subject matter but more importantly, the students. They need to know they can count on you for time and questions. Their concerns should be a top priority and acknowledged as soon as possible. You need to remember to take as much time as your able to, to make sure the student succeeds and advances. Keep them interested, make the subject interesting so the students not only enjoy the learning process and the subject but enjoy taking classes from you as a teacher. As an Instructor, you hold the power to either make or break a certain subject and student. You can either commit to making the class/course one of the best or one of the most boring. Never rush through a presentation, always let the students know your there for their benefit, not your own.
Lets go back to our favorite Teacher, Professor, Instructor, Mentor again and think about what made them stand out from the others. Was it they were fun?, They could tell a great joke? They never gave out homework? Or was it their communications skills? Were they able to get through to you, to help you enjoy what you were learning and spoke directly to you and not over or at you? How did they reach you and were able to provide you with the information you sought? Did they keep the subject matter on track and interesting or did you sit and watch the clock, hoping it would all be over soon? Were you able to meet, one on one with this individual and have them explain, in depth, any problems you were having? Without good communication skills, you lose your students and fast. By the time you even realize you have lost them, its way too late.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do as a Teacher/Instructor, is to keep your students interested and wanting to learn more, so what is the key to success? Motivation. Its your job to keep them in the classroom and in the moment. You, as a good Teacher/instructor, can take the most boring of subjects (like selling Insurance) and make it interesting to the students if you know how. A good Instructor/Mentor finds ways to make boring subjects interesting and sometimes even fun. Making the students want to learn more, pique their interest, keep the subject exciting and always keep them wanting more. Only you, will know how to do this. Stop and think what made subjects interesting for you, What kept the momentum going? Did your teachers add "war stories" Did they have students get up and demonstrate? Believe me, if you just sit in front of the class and read off Power Point slides, your going to loose them fast!
Being an Instructor/Teacher/Mentor is not always going to be an easy task but it can be not only fun but enjoyable. You have the power to shape a future, to expand knowledge and to keep Brother and Sister Firefighters safe, out of harms way and out of the Chief's Office! Anyone can be an Instructor but to be a good one, you need to remember the five points and keep in mind, you are making a difference in someones career and future.