Monday, September 21, 2020

The Instructor Development Course

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Becoming a dive instructor is, to my mind, like being on the TV show "Survivor".??

You have a group of people, all dedicated, all focused, all a little bit nuts to begin with. ??These people are stuck in a stressful situation (the Instructor Development Course) and forced to participate in a range of challenging, sometimes difficult tasks.?? And, like "Survivor", there are no points for killing the host (in this case, the course director), no matter how much he or she might deserve it.

The main differences, of course, are you can’t vote your classmates off an instructor course (as much as you might sometimes want to) and you don’t get flown to tropical islands when you do something good.?? Plus you don’t have to hunt wild animals for food on an IDC.?? At least not in the first week.?? Which is always a bonus.

Of course the people on "Survivor" have a fairly strong motive for being there — namely bucket loads of cash.?? Whereas dive instructors who are there for bucket loads of cash are really only kidding themselves.

So why become a dive instructor??? Why give up a lucrative career as, say, an astrophysicist or the president of a superpower to teach diving??? Why, when you’ve been perfectly happy being a social diver whose only responsibility is to return to the right boat with the same buddy you started out with, would you then want to aggravate your life with students and standards?

Why??? Is it the fame (ha ha ha)??? Glory (Ha ha ha ha)??? Fortune (HAHAHAHA!)?

Truth be told, people opt to become dive instructors for a wide range of reasons — some are natural born show-offs (like the people on "Survivor"), some want to share their diving knowledge with others, others want to escape a dead end job, some want to travel, a few want to own their own dive operations, some just want the groovy black card.

There really is no right or wrong reason to become a dive instructor — obviously, becoming an instructor to use your students in biological warfare experiments is a bit dodgy.?? But, on the whole, most normal people have perfectly valid reasons for doing it.

One thing though that everyone who wants to be a dive instructor has in common is that they are also doing so because they are complete nutters.

Yes, this is a sweeping generalisation but, like all the other times I generalise, I don’t care.?? Well, consider the IDC (the PADI version at any rate).?? Two weeks of long days, of lectures (some of which will bore the legs off a camel), of preparation, of diving, of sitting at the bottom of pools.?? A fortnight of cursing whoever made floppy disks with only 1.2 meg of storage space when your fantastic PowerPoint presentation on neutral buoyancy takes up about 10 gigabytes.?? Fourteen days of stress, of eating M & Ms by the handful, of drinking too many cans of soft drink.

All so you can go to the instructor exam and sit down at the theory tests to discover you’ve brought with you dive tables written in German when your only grasp of German is "Ich bin ein Berliner".

All so you can one day sit at the bottom of a river with zero visibility, surrounded by five people who could either be your Open Water class or victims of a gangland hit.

But, I think importantly, also you don’t really have to work for a living.

I mean, let’s be honest, while dive instruction is no glamour job, it does beat being in an office by several million degrees of magnitude.?? Like every job it has its share of ups and downs but at least you’re outside, getting sunshine and fresh air, and you don’t have to wear ties and other similarly uncomfortable clothes.?? Plus you get to go diving.

Adventures with IDCs

The first stage, of course, is two weeks of IDC.?? This is designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, the serious from the pretenders, those who have enough coins for the M & M machine and those who don’t.

Make no mistake, an IDC is stressful.?? But tempering all this is the fact that it’s also a lot of fun.?? You meet a whole lot of new and interesting people, you get to do plenty of diving, you get to challenge yourself and learn plenty of new skills.

For example, one of the highlights of my IDC was playing with PowerPoint presentations.?? I’d like to say that I sometimes went overboard with the extent of my presentations because I wanted to produce a superior lesson.?? Well, yes, that too.?? But I also found the possibility of having animated divers waltz across the screen in time to "La Marseilles" too much to resist.

This became a useful teaching tool when I got around to doing instructing because there were times when I could say to a class "OK, let’s work on getting those skills right or it’ll be the ‘buoyancy’ presentation again."

My IDC also included a seminar with a professional psychologist who explained how stress works ("Phil, I’m afraid I’m going to have to beat Tim to death with an instructor manual", "Yes, well, that’s understandable, given how much stress you’re under") and how to make positive use of it ("Channel that energy into, say, refusing to share air with him during an out-of-air exercise").?? He also explained how people learn and the best learning strategies to use when we got around to teaching for real ("No, threatening to steal all their clothes from the changing rooms if they don’t perform the skills properly is not a valid learning strategy").

Then there were the talks about how the dive industry really works ("You know, in some places, they pay you with cow skulls") and how we could make ourselves more employable ("Hello Mr Dive Centre Owner, I have photographs of you and an elk.?? Now give me a job").

Beyond the IDC

Once you get past the IDC and assuming you get through the instructor exam by using a set of dive tables and an instructor manual written in a language you understand, you are sent out into the world to teach diving to others.

I’m not going to gild the lily with y’all…there are times when being a dive instructor is a pig of a job (my humblest apologies to all pigs).??

Usually it’s when you’re in 10 metres of water, watching someone from your first Open Water class float towards the surface because they’ve forgotten that it’s not called a "power inflator" for nothing while the rest of the class decides that now is the time to play underwater hide and seek, that you wonder if it was all worth it.

It can be a highly stressful job, especially in these litigious times when it seems that hardly anyone takes to the water without a lawyer beside them.?? Unfortunately, some argue, most of these lawyers make it back.?? But that’s not an attitude I’d take.

It’s also physically demanding and there are only so many 15 hour days a body can do in a row before it decides to seek a trial separation from its owner on the grounds of cruel and unusual treatment.

There are also times when it’s extremely boring — you might be diving a site for the 50th time in a month, you might be stuck in the shop answering crazy questions from crazy people, you might be left filling tanks all afternoon with nothing but the rumble and clatter of an air compressor to keep you company.

And there’s also paperwork.?? There are files to fill, notes to take, students to assess, certificates to draw up.?? Sure, you can get a divemaster to do all that.?? But ultimately the responsibility is yours.?? Make sure you start with a full pen.

But there are times which more than make up for these aggravations.?? Like seeing the expression (sometimes of terror) on the faces of your students when a seal swims up to play while you’re on their first open water dive.?? Like having people come up to you after a course and say "That was a lot of fun.?? Thank you."?? Like the "Quiet Little Drinks" with your fellow instructors and divemasters after a crazy day when you can unwind and complain about things to your heart’s content to people who know EXACTLY what you’re moaning about.?? Like getting to work in a location where the water’s warm, the sun’s shining and the visibility is so good you can see fish in a completely different ocean.

And like guiding a group of people around a familiar dive site, stopping on the bottom while they look at something, looking around you at the fish and coral and other marine life and thinking "I get paid to do this".

As irritating as the life can be, it does take some beating.

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