THEY AIN’T ALL THE SAME.
Article by Mark Hatfield.
Recently I was asked to ‘baby sit’ (my words) a fellow who was teaching a handgun class at a range where I serve as a Range Safety Officer. I was to give an impromptu safety talk and then observe the class for a while to determine if they could be left on their own or needed watching. They needed watching. Boy Oh Boy, Did they need watching.
Before they started I asked questions to get a feel for their experience and training. I was told that ‘most’ of the four students had trained under this instructor before. The instructor did have a large emblem on the back of his jacket showing his certification as an instructor, issued from a large well known organization, no less. This instructor informed me that these students were all at the ‘intermediate’ level, he then added that this was because they had all attended a concealed weapon class. The class, I believe, he had taught.
Among them one had a medium frame revolver, another a small Glock, another a small oddball copy of the Colt ‘1911’, I don’t recall what semi-auto the other fellow had. Two of the semi-auto shooters didn’t remember how to load their guns, even how to insert the magazine. I observed that the ‘1911’ shooter fired right handed but always used his left hand to put the safety on or off. Later I showed him how to operate the safety using the thumb of his right hand and the alternate method if he was shooting with his left hand. I cautioned one shooter to not put his thumb behind the slide of his semi-auto. I had to remind one or two to put on their eye protection. There was one or two other things I advised. The instructor had never said anything nor did he assist the students with any of these problems. Nor did he assist or correct any other problems.
They were firing at ledger size sheets of paper, that is 11 by 17 inches and doing so from seven yards. The warm-up was to take their time and fire six shots. One guy hit with only five shots, another with only four, the Glock shooter missed with all six. Throughout my observation I kept reminding myself ‘He calls these INTERMEDIATE level students’.
The first four or five drills the shooters were to start from a ‘low ready’ position and fire six shots, returning to the low ready after each shot. Glock shooter never did, every drill he would raise his gun and fire all six. The instructor never said anything. He never knew about it.
I held back from much I could have said or done. I did not want to undermine the instructor or seem like I was ‘taking over’ the class however it was almost difficult not to. I did jump in when the instructor stood in of his students (who were all on the firing line) and as he spoke of something, two of them drew their guns from the holsters and pointed them down range though somewhat to the side. The instructor had not thought of that as a problem until I interrupted and pointed it out. He didn’t even seem to notice.
While the instructor took a potty break I inquired how much they were paying him. One hundred dollars each for a partial day.
Part of the problem was very clear. He, the instructor, never watched his students. Yup, He would tell them to do something then never watch them as they attempted to do it.
His written material, some memorized, some read aloud from his notes, was ok, not bad, certainly not wrong but was often incomplete in areas. The drills he had them do were so-so at best but did not seem to be leading to any particular goal. His great error was that he never paid attention to what the students were doing. He could not assist his students, correct their problems, improve their technique, or anything because he never saw them in action. Whenever they shot he would stand in the middle of the line and shoot along with them at the same time. They could have been shooting at each other and as long as they missed he might never have never know it.
After about an hour and a half I was notified that I would be needed elsewhere, could these guys be left alone? I said ‘no’, but that it might be easily correctable (I hoped). At the next reasonable opportunity I announced that I had to leave and asked to speak with the instructor on the side. I had seen that the guys all did reholster safely, that was good. I explained that there was a serious problem which he had not realized. He apologized for letting the students draw their guns while he was in front of them, I explained that there was much more than that. I mentioned that the guys could be (without being aware of it) pointing guns at their own feet, at their hands, at each other and he would never know because he NEVER watched them. I tried to really drive this home. I suggested that he use this method:
Explain what he wants them to do.
Then WATCH them.
Give them corrections as they may need.
I could have said a lot more, that he was wasting their time and money as well as reinforcing bad habits, letting them think that what they did was OK, but I didn’t.
I didn’t think this ‘instructor’ was an idiot. However that day, he was not an instructor, he really was not instructing. He thought he was. I thought he could become an OK instructor but the large well known organization which gave him his teaching credentials clearly never taught him how to teach.
A few months earlier I was a volunteer at an orientation to firearms for women only. All the ‘coaches’ were certified Range Safety Officers. The shooting portion was done with one-on coaching. During this, a handgun was pointed at my student and I, twice. My student saw this also. The person who pointed it at us was one of the coaches.
I spent seven years in the Navy and Marine Corps, during that time I did work for some senior people who were ‘problems’. I felt fortunate that for my first several assignments I had leaders who were quite good both in their field and at leadership, that experience allowed me to better exist when under those who were not. Those ‘intermediate’ students I observed did not know enough to know what they were getting and what they were not. I felt sorry for them.
BTW That instructor shot only very slightly better than the best of his students. AND Talking with these students before the class started, some of them actually thought that they were at an intermediate level of skill.