The Real Value in Evaluating Your Firearm Instructor

If an instructor is good, word spreads fast. If an instructor is not good, word spreads faster. Here's why your students' opinions matter.

by posted on July 10, 2023
Rao Instructor Talking To Student

A good teacher does not have to tell others they are good at what they do; it is reflected in their students’ test scores, performance, and their overall grasp of the subject matter. A good teacher’s student leaves the course with a marked improvement in the subject matter compared to that of when they first entered class. This concept applies to all teachers and instructors. This includes firearms training instructors.

If an instructor is good, word spreads fast. If an instructor is not good, word spreads faster. For example, if you have a driving school and it is your job to prepare your students for their driving test, your success is tied to the success of your pupils. If a high percentage of your students fail to pass their driving test, then you failed as an instructor. It will not take long before word spreads, the number of students who enroll in your class drops off, and you quickly go out of business.

I get a lot of students who have taken firearms training classes from other instructors. Many who have passed the other classes have shared with me they did not feel they got their money’s worth. Others who did not pass these other classes stated that the instructor was just not a good teacher. I have also had students who stated they took courses from firearms instructors who began their class by telling everyone how many participants fail or will not pass the course. These instructors set the tone for failure instead of success.

It is very important for firearms training instructors to realize that it is not only their students who are being evaluated, but also the instructor himself or herself who is also being evaluated. In fact, the instructor is being evaluated more so than the students! For example, if an instructor has six students, he or she is watching and evaluating each student on his or her performance. The instructor is being evaluated six times, once from each student!

Everything your student does reflects your ability as an instructor. If you have students who demonstrate the safe handling of firearms, then you did your job. If you have students who have improved upon their shooting skills, then you did your job. If there was a written test during class and you have a student who successfully completed the exam, then you did your job. There are three ways that an instructor can evaluate their own skills as a firearms training instructor. You can evaluate yourself as an instructor by student demonstrations, student tests, and instructor evaluations.

Student Demonstrations 
The first evaluation that an instructor makes on his or her student is their actions in the classroom. More specifically, is the student handling a firearm in a safe manner? This is why it is so important that instructors model the correct behavior that they want their students to exhibit. If an instructor routinely has students, class after class, that handle firearms in an unsafe or improper manner in the classroom, oftentimes it is because the instructor is modeling these incorrect behaviors and the student is duplicating what they see.

When instructors are modeling incorrect behaviors, many times, they are not even aware that they are doing it. For example, one technique that is frequently done incorrectly is closing the slide on a semi-automatic pistol. The slide-stop on a semi-automatic pistol, by definition, is just that—a “slide stop.”  The correct method to close the action of a semi-automatic pistol is to “rack” the slide. This is done by firmly holding the pistol with your strong hand and taking your other hand and placing it over the rear sight area to “clamshell” the slide. There are usually finger or gripping grooves on the side of the rear of the slide for a secure hold. The heel of the palm grips one side of the slide on the grooves and the fingers grips the other side of the slide on the opposite grooves. Pull the slide back to the rear until it stops and then immediately release the grasp you have on the slide, allowing the slide to slam forward and shut. Many instructors, while operating a semi-automatic pistol, push slide-stop down with their thumb to close the action without even realizing they are doing it. Students may then model this incorrect technique, which may result in the firearm not going into “battery” when on the range.

The second evaluation an instructor makes on a student is the correct and proper way of shooting a firearm. In other words, are they consistently hitting the spot on the target where they are aiming?  When your student is hitting in the same area and has a tight grouping, this tells you that the shooter is doing the same thing consistently every single time they squeeze the trigger.

If your student is not hitting the same spot on the target every time, they need what they paid for:  instruction. I have heard too many complaints of instructors who fail a student without communicating with the student and helping them to understand what is happening and how to correct the problem, telling them they must come back and take private lessons from him or her at a later date. Once again, if a lot of your students are not passing a basic class, the problem may actually be you.

If an instructor is having a hard time teaching students to properly shoot, he or she should start reflecting on how they are teaching. Do not be afraid of trying something new. The shooting fundamentals (aiming, breath control, hold control, trigger control, and follow through) are standard basic techniques, but maybe it is your delivery method or how you present the information that can be improved for the success of your student. An instructor can be the best shooter and marksman in the world, but if he or she cannot teach the proper way to shoot, he or she is not an effective teacher.

Student Tests 
Written tests are a great way of evaluating a student’s comprehension of a subject matter. All NRA Firearms Training Courses have some type of written test at the end of their training classes. These same written tests can be used by the instructor to evaluate him or herself. This can be done by not focusing on the right answers but concentrating on the wrong answers.

I have heard other instructors say, “almost everyone gets that test answer wrong.” This tells me that this is an instructor issue. If you have a high percentage of your students missing specific questions, then the instructor is not thoroughly teaching those topics. Maybe you need to spend more time on these topics, use better examples, explain the topic in a different way, use more training aids, or research it more so that you as an instructor understand it better so that you can teach it more effectively.

One of the biggest traps an instructor falls into when teaching is “Death by Power Point.” Anyone can flip through a Power Point presentation, slide by slide without any discussions, training aids, or in-depth explanations. Remember, your students are paying for instruction not just for a class of the teacher simply reading each of the slides.

Instructor Evaluations 
Every instructor should pass out evaluations at the end of every class so that your students can rate the quality of your instruction and provide comments and suggestions that might improve your course. Instructor evaluations are required to be handed out at the end of every class if you are teaching an NRA course.

The reason instructor evaluations should be passed out at the end of your course is so you can keep your classes fresh and relevant. It is also a very important tool you can use to improve your class. Every instructor should value and appreciate the comments and suggestions from every one of their students.  

I take the evaluations I receive from my students very seriously. When I pass out evaluations at the end of my class, I let my students know that I take them seriously and that I welcome their honest feedback. I let them know that because of the evaluations I’ve received over time, their class is better than the last class. My goal is to make the next class better than theirs. I do this by the information that I receive on the evaluations and always striving for improvements to give my students the best experience and training possible.

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