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“I think I taught you how to be instructors, but I don’t know if I taught you how to pass the state test.”  This is what I told my class of fire instructor students at the end of the course today. It’s a shame, really, when you think about it.  

For the past number of weeks, I have been pouring my time, mind, and heart into the course, trying to make it informative, relevant, and useful.  I have taught them how to set up a room, operate audio-visual technology, and how to eliminate distractions. We’ve covered learning styles, how to reach various types of students, and how to keep good records.  The days have been long, packed full of information.

But I’m not sure if I taught them what they will really need to know in order to pass the state test in the next week.  The course is based on NFPA 1041 (Fire Service Instructor) and the curriculum meets this standard in its material. The state test is based on this curriculum; therefore, the test, in theory, is based on the NFPA standard.  

They should be good, right?

I don’t know.  As I look back, I think of the time spent on the practical application of the text.  I think of the extra presentations they did, the way we went over slide deck creation, and how we came up with alternative ways of presenting the material.  Many of the things we did were not covered in the book in this manner. It leads me to wonder, should I have stuck closer to the manufacturer’s curriculum?


It’s time that we take a look at the overall curriculum creation process and whether or not it synthesizes well with a standard.  If we want to improve the quality of our instructors, then we need to improve the quality of the material. We must be less worried about preparing students to pass a test, and more focused on producing instructors who “get it.”  

Our new instructors can quote Thorndike, Knowles, and Mager while teaching from a chevron or horseshoe shaped seating arrangement.  They can tell you what percentage of material is retained from seeing versus hearing, and what amount is captured from nonverbal communication.  All good stuff to know cerebrally.

But can they teach?  Can they truly pass on information that will be retained and applied in those critical moments when a firefighter has to make a decision on the fire conditions?  Have they created a desire for life-long learning in their students which we know is so necessary for a long career?

I have every confidence that we did justice to the curriculum and its objectives.  I can say with certainty that what was required was covered. I know that I did my best to get them interested, prepared, and able to recall information for the state test.

But more importantly, I know that the other instructors and myself passed on different things that can make them effective instructors.  They were exposed to different teaching styles which they can tailor to their strengths and abilities. The extra presentations they did and the critiques that they were given will serve them well as they start out.  The nonbook stuff was presented in useful and, dare I say, fun ways.

They are ready to become instructors.  Well, right after they pass the state test anyways!

**If you are an instructor and have useful tips and techniques that I can pass on, I’d love to hear from you.  If you have had a poor instructor at some point in the past, I’d like to learn from their mistakes so that I can improve my own teaching.  Do you have a good article, blog, or book that will make me better? Let me know. Please reach out to me at  Thanks!

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