Thoughts on Instructor Certifications

I put little stock in instructor certifications when it comes to firearms training.  As in, zero.  Thinking of all the people who I have trained with in the past, never once did I ask, care, or even wonder about, what certifications they have.  Rather, I care very much how good they are at the craft, how good they are at teaching the craft, and how much professional training they have done themselves with other instructors.  I think there is value in “instructor development” classes, which are courses that teach instructors to be better teachers.  Such classes attract participants who wish to actually get better at instructing, not people who want an easy way to obtain a proclaimed expertise in something.  However, courses that certify the participant to teach a particular curriculum are problematic.  The issue with such courses is not necessarily the content, but with the perception of the student who participates.  I will explain:

There is no way for a certifying body, or certifying instructor, to be able to bestow the ability to teach onto someone.  This is not the medical field that requires years of formal education, experience, and internship; rather, the firearms and self-defense training field is entirely unregulated.  Successful instructors become so due to their reputation; some are excellent and many are worthless, if not beyond worthless in that they teach things that are ethically, legally, and/or tactically unsound.  If you are new to this world, do your research. 

What an instructor certification can do is require that a minimum competency be met.  If we are looking at that, then the instructor certification that is handed out to anything with a pulse by a particular organization with a three-letter acronym is almost useless.  Yet, the general public puts the most stock in that particular certifying body.  Far better would be a Rangemaster certification, as that program requires competent shooting standards to pass and is taught by one of the best firearms instructors in the world.  Still, though, even with the best instructor programs minimum requirements can be met, but there is simply no way for an instructor to be able to transmit and “certify” the ability to teach well. 

The biggest problem I have with any sort of certifications is this; the majority of people who get “certified” have very little, if any, other training, and they think getting certified is in some way the obtainment of authority on the subject.  Far, far, far more important than any certification, or multiple certifications, is how much training an instructor has actually done with others. 

I know this will ruffle feathers, but if you are a professional trainer in any capacity then you should be able to name a half-dozen nationally known instructors that you have trained with; preferably, more.  All else being equal, a person who has taken hundreds of hours of training, yet has no certifications, will be, I guarantee, a far better instructor than a person who gets certified as an instructor by any given organization but has not trained with anyone else. 

I will say that an instructor who has many “certifications” demonstrates that they take the profession seriously, so there is that.  Again, though, no guarantee that the instruction from the individual will be good.  My advice in choosing instructors remains this:

1. Can they actually shoot at a high level?  Do they compete or have a background that suggests they can shoot well?

2. Are they active in some way in contributing toward the field?  Do they write articles, make videos, or at least have some kind of presence on forums, etc…? 

3. Who have they trained with?  You want well-known names, and lots of them. 

Beyond these things that actually do matter, certifications from respected entities are icing on the cake, but hardly the cake itself.

If you want to be an instructor yourself, then certifications are fine, but consider them supplemental to the foundation that is built on training with lots of top people.  If you have not been a prolific student yourself, how can you presume to be a teacher?  This is akin to when people tell me that they wish to be an author, yet they don’t read.  Really? 

If instructor certificates were only sought and obtained by people who are perpetual students of the craft then they would have more value, but that is not the case.  If you provide firearms instruction to others I would suggest that you avoid getting wrapped around the axil about getting certifications and first apply yourself to being a student in good classes by top instructors.  Once you have done a lot of that and you have a clue, then get certifications that actually add value to what you are trying to do or are necessary for what you want to do. 

That’s my two cents.  All of you “certified” instructors with no actual training under your belt can hate me in the comments if you wish! 

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