Instructors: Check Your Ego at the Door

I thought about titling this post, “It’s Not All About You”, but decided that would be too inflammatory. But I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind lately.

Over at the Cornered Cat blog, Kathy Jackson had a post today about the fact that instructors are, by the nature of what they do, in a position of authority over their students, and she talked about the limits of that authority. One piece in particular jumped out at me:

[T]hat authority is voluntary, limited, and temporary.

It is voluntary because your students choose to enroll in your classes. The students who end up in your classes get there because they have made a choice to do that. They have lots of other things they could have done this weekend, but they chose to rearrange their time to spend it with you. They have lots of other things they could do with their money, but they chose to buy a class from you. You have to treat them with the same respect a shopkeeper would give a customer, because that’s what they are—customers.

I wanted to highlight this part of Kathy’s post because I think there’s another important aspect to the voluntary nature of this authority we have as teachers: The student who comes to us is choosing to do that because of what THEY want to learn. Your job as an instructor is to meet that need, to help them learn the skills they seek, or to tell them that those skills are outside your area of expertise and suggest the look elsewhere (if that’s true). Although you have the position of authority in the relationship, the relationship is about them, not about you.

Why do I bring this up? Well, how many of these behaviors have you seen in instructors or trainers, either in the shooting world or elsewhere?

  • Instructors who tell you that “my way is the only way” and put down or dismiss the teaching styles of other instructors without explaining why they think their approach works better?
  • Instructors who criticize or put down other instructors, who say things like “why would you ever want to study with her?”
  • Instructors who spend an inordinate amount of time talking about themselves, their experiences, their expertise, and how great they are but who do so without actually teaching you anything?
  • Instructors who yell, scream, belittle and berate their students?
  • Instructors who are unwilling to demonstrate the things they’re asking their students to do? If I am unable or unwilling to demonstrate a skill or drill, I have no business asking my students to do it, but I’ve seen too many shooting classes where the instructor never actually puts their money where their mouth is and puts rounds down-range. This is a HUGE red flag for me.
  • Instructors who think that teaching a class containing one or more students of the opposite gender is an opportunity to make sexually explicit comments or troll for dates? Don’t laugh, this HAS actually happened to me, although not in a shooting class. I was less assertive and self-assured then, so I spent a very uncomfortable day putting up with what was assuredly sexual harassment. If something like that happened now, I would do a lot more than just sit there and take it, but I fear that a new female student – especially in a class of mostly men – might not always speak up.

When I choose to spend my time and money on a training class, I’m there because I think the instructor has something to teach that will be of benefit to me. I’m not there to feed his or her ego trip. I’m not there to listen to how great he is and how everyone else I’ve ever studied with was teaching me crap. I’m not there to become a part of the instructor’s personal throng of groupies – there’s a difference between admiring an instructor because of what or how they teach, and getting sucked into a cult of personality. And I am most assuredly not there to have him sneaking peeks down my shirt, brushing against me, and making clumsy passes at me.

If you’re a student and you observe this kind of bad behavior, I encourage you to speak up. Unfortunately, there are far too many instructors out there who engage in one or more of these behaviors, and it’s hard sometimes to know ahead of time what you’re getting. If you see instructors doing these sorts of things, stand up and speak out. Ask for your money back. And tell your friends – responsible, capable, competent instructors welcome word of mouth advertising, and the bad eggs deserve to have the spotlight of public attention shining their way.

If you’re an instructor, I think it’s important to remember that with the authority our students give us comes a great deal of responsibility. In a shooting class, we are responsible for keeping our students safe, teaching them the skills and techniques they’ve hired us to teach them, and giving them the guidance and encouragement to grow in their ability and their confidence. It’s not about US, it’s about THEM, and we forget that lesson at our peril. So, when you walk into the classroom or onto the range to teach, leave your ego at the door. Better yet, leave it at home, and keep the focus of the class where it belongs: On your students.

Photo credit: stock.xchng


  1. Mary Ellis says:

    I agree with almost everything you said. The only thing I disagree with is about the instructor not putting rounds down range. When I am teaching a class, generally, I do not shoot for 2 reasons. 1) as you said, it isn’t about me-it’s about their learning. I’m not there to show off how “good” I am. If someone is having difficulty, I “may” fire a round or two with their gun, just to make sure it isn’t something mechanical that is interfering with their success. I have done this, and told them to put that gun away!! and 2) what if I’M having an off day!! Do you wnat to plant that in their brain—-“and she is teaching me?”

    The rest of everything you said, I do totally agree with!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Mary! I think that whether an instructor shoots during a class or not depends, in part, on the nature of the class. For example, I know what when Mas Ayoob teaches his MAG-40 classes, his instructors all shoot the final qualifier before the students do. So I guess my thinking would be, “if the instructor is going to put rounds down-range, she should think carefully about the reason(s) she’s doing it and weigh them against the risks of so doing.” But of course, I’m always open to the possibility my thinking is wrong, which is why I never stop trying to learn from others too.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

      • Mary Ellis says:

        I can see it in the MAG40 class. They are not dealing with novice shooters. They are dealing with more experienced people who know that it sometimes happens. And even if they have a bad day-you still know that they have the capability or they wouldn’t be in that position. I liken that to the Texas CHL instructors—the students have to shoot 70% to qualify for the CHL–But as an instructor-I had to qualify 90% with both a pistol & a revolver–and repeat it every 2 years(regular CHL only qualify 5 years)

      • Mary Ellis says:

        Oops!! hit the enter button too soon!!

        With novice shooters, you run the risk of either 1)she’s teaching me?(in the event of off day) or 2) I’ll never be able to do that (when you are having a really GOOD day). I only want my students comparing themselves–to themselves and focus on improving their own skills without any self-imposed expectations of what is “good”

      • Mary, I agree with you in the general case when teaching novice shooters, and I hedge on that agreement only because I’ve learned the hard way that when I say “always” or “never”, the universe has a way of providing me with an exception to my blanket pronouncement. 🙂 Obviously, the answer to the question depends on the experience level of one’s students and the specific circumstances at hand.

        I can’t say I’d NEVER do a live-fire demonstration in a class, but it hasn’t happened yet and I think it unlikely for a beginners’ class.

        Thanks for your comments on this issue – thinking through my response has been a useful learning opportunity!

  2. I more or less agree with Mary. Class time is precious, and by the time each student has qualified, we’re usually all ready to go home and take care of other pressing needs.

    I’m really too focused on getting each one qualified and the certificates signed to do much shooting then myself – outside of trouble shooting such as Mary mentioned. But I do invite all students to come shoot with me another day, their choice for the most part – since I’ll go shooting at the drop of a hat most times. I’ve had as many as four or five join me for a morning at the range.. No pressure then, no schedule and no reason not to relax and have fun while we hone our skills, me as much as anyone. We’re all friends just enjoying ourselves at that point. 🙂

    • The last class I helped teach ran something like 8am to 1pm or something like that, and we gathered a few students who wanted to shoot afterward. At that point, it was just “a bunch of women enjoying ourselves” with no pressure, and it was a lot of fun. During the class itself, though, I think the only time I even handled actual weapons was to explain loading and unloading before students came up to shoot – and we did as much of that as possible with a blue gun.

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