In most disciplines, the best teachers are not always the best in their field but the ones most able to impart knowledge and lead others to excellence. Diving is no different, the best instructors are not necessarily the people who have the most experience and excellence in diving. If you are an aspiring new scuba instructor, you may find it interesting to reflect on which qualities you need to develop to make a good teacher. You should have honed those diving skills in your PADI Divemaster course, now what aspects and characteristics of your personality and approach do you need to develop to share your passion and train other divers?
Being a people person
The first thing you need, and you need it a lot is to like- if not love, -people. Ask any diver or pro, read any book about it , they’ll all tell you the same thing: you are dealing with people all day, they will rely on you for fun but also to keep them safe, to teach them, to help them choose deep-seated dive gear and probably to help them choose where to eat, sleep and where to go next. If you do not like people- all sorts of different people, mind- and constant interaction on many levels, you’ll burn out in a few months. Diving can also bring out deep seated fears and phobias, so you need to have a strong sense of compassion to help people overcome these hurdles and become happy divers. If you shudder at the idea of consoling someone in tears, doing your best impression of a therapist to get them through a terrifying mask clear, walk-on, that is what the job entails some days. You’ll also often be expected to socialise, be a tour guide (within reason), a security officer, an advisor and an entertainer, so if you want to take pleasure in your job make sure you like doing this with all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds and from all sorts of places.
Teaching diving is all about people skills and one of the main skills in dealing with people is of course patience. People learn at different speeds and have different difficulties to overcome, even if you are under the pressure of strict schedules, you need to be able to remain patient, find ways to help students through their difficulties or rework your schedule, if needed, to complete the course successfully. Even if you are exclusively guiding, you’ll find yourself taking time to help less strong or less experienced divers, perhaps repeating things several times to younger or overconfident divers, assisting and waiting for dedicated photographers and perhaps dealing with overly demanding and unhappy people at times. In each situation, you will need patience, compassion and an ability to see things from their perspective.
Teaching skills and pedagogy
Mastering the skills is, of course, a given but continuing to build on those skills, watching and comparing notes with other instructors, learning from errors, from other training agencies approaches, are not. Make sure you are constantly learning not just from others but from your own experiences, wonder how you could do things better, if something you are teaching makes sense and if it doesn’t to you, question it, debate it with others, cross reference other teaching methods. Stay curious and open and listen to your students, they almost have as much to teach you as you do them.
This is one of the tricky ones, you are often constricted in your teaching by strict schedules involving boat departures and tides and yet, you have to fulfil all the steps of the courses you are teaching. You’ll have a lot to do in little time with many distractions (like logistics for instance). Thinking through your day, imagining what may delay you and imagining plans B and C so you are relaxed and have a solution if this happens will go a long way to making your life (and that of your co-workers) easier.
A sense of humour
Essential! When things do go a bit wrong and trust me they will at times, you need to be able to see the funny side. The driver is 20 minutes late, they forgot the petrol for the boat, two tanks are mysteriously missing, despite 26 attempts Gertrude still can’t clear her mask, the roof has collapsed in the restaurant where we’re having lunch, all these things happen (honestly, they do); how you deal with them and what you reflect to your divers is what is really important. Keep a smile on your face, make a joke, tell a story, think outside the box and laugh it off. You’ll often find that your divers didn’t even realise there was a problem at the end of the day or have completely forgotten it ever happened.
Being passionately driven
The days are long for dive professionals and can be quite demanding. You need to have a passion to share and drive to carry you. Find joy in sharing small things with people of all levels in all sorts of circumstances, even if you’ve done the dive a hundred times and are guiding a complete beginner, show them the world you love with passion, show them the blue starfish, and have the drive to clean gear, fill tanks, do admin and sit in the shop till the closing time after too. It’s worth it!
Being an oasis of calm
You are responsible for people’s safety and they will look to you to know how to react in any given situation. You need to inspire calm in others through your calm demeanour and the impression that you have everything under control. Even if you don’t. Even if your brain is racing to find solutions. Mix it in with a good dose of the aforementioned sense of humour and no one may ever be the wiser.
These are but a few qualities that will be useful to you as a dive instructor and take you a long way in having happy divers/students/co-workers/employers and enjoying your career choice.