What Makes a Good Instructor

Over the years, I’ve had a chance to train with a variety of different instructors: Some were extremely good, others were very good, while others were………”OK.” Allow me to share with you my views on what makes “a good instructor / teacher.”

For starters, a good instructor is an individual who cares about his or her students. This, I believe, is the most important quality a good instructor should have. To care for the students, the good instructor pays attention to the needs ALL OF THEIR STUDENTS, not just the talented ones, or the gifted ones, or the good looking, or the similar ones (i.e. similar by gender, race, age, ethnicity or interest). By consistently demonstrating a concern for the individual needs of each student, an instructor can show they truly care for all of their students!

Now, this does not mean the instructor will always be able to care for all students, at the same time, each and every class. What I mean by that is this:

Some students can be very needy. They may not see themselves as needy, but their actions say otherwise. For example, some students need repeated “attention”, every class or every week. Caring for these students can sometimes be difficult because there will usually be an expectation on the part of these students to interact with them for an extended period of time. For example, I once had a student who wanted input, feedback and instruction after every class. Yes, EVERY CLASS! This went on for over a month. Finally, I had to tell him, “Joe (not his real name), I don’t mind sharing information with you, and I don’t mind helping you to progress, but these periods of time you ask for help after class are getting longer and longer. What started out as a couple minutes here and there have now turned into these 15 to 20 minute private lessons after each class. If you really need all of this help, I need to ask you to begin taking private lessons. Again, I don’t mind helping you after class here and there, but I can’t keep giving you all of this time free of charge and ignoring others, or ignoring my other responsibilities. Unfortunately, Joe got an attitude that I was helping others and not helping him as much as he felt he needed or deserved. Eventually, Joe quit training at my facility and went some other place – which is unfortunate….but Joe came to my academy after feeling dissatisfied with his training at another martial arts facility. So, his quitting my academy was not unexpected.

As you can see, clearly, no instructor could meet Joe’s needs – at least not for an extended period of time. So, while it is important to care for students, sometimes their needs can become so weighty that they become demanding of an instructor’s time and generosity. While giving and sharing are a part of a good instructors repertoire, doing so every evening after 10pm can get a little heavy – especially when the student begins to demand this time (free of charge of course).

Second, a good instructor is a giver. Giving and caring go hand in hand. An instructor who truly cares about the progress of each student will consistently give from the heart. A good instructor will give extra time to students who need additional help, as well as freely share their time, experience, wisdom and knowledge with all. A good instructor will consistently go above and beyond the call of duty. He or she will give until they can give no more!

Third, a good instructor must know how to present information to a diverse group of students. Whether they are teaching to men or women, adults or kids, military or civilian, foreign or locals, the good instructors will know the best way to present the information to the group they are in front of. They will know which subjects to present as well as which ones should be avoided. The good instructor will make every effort to present information in an entertaining and enjoyable fashion that will help the student retain the information easier.

If an aspiring instructor does not know how to effectively present information to a diverse group of individuals, he or she will make every effort to learn how to do it. A good instructor knows that no one is born a good instructor and that becoming one is something that takes time, patience, effort and persistence.

Four, a good instructor willingly adapts to the ever-changing needs of his clients. The good instructor has paid attention to detail and knows that his students train for a variety of reasons. Some students train for fun, while other do so to relieve stress. Some train because they want to learn self-defense, while others do so because they desire to feel the adrenaline rush of competition or the euphoria of learning something new and challenging. Some students come to class to prove something, while others come to class because they desire to “feel” are a part of something bigger than themselves. The good instructor knows all of these things and adapts to them. He allows each student to find and travel his chosen path, as well as change his choice of paths at a later point in time. Knowing how to adapt to each client is important to the success and health of the academy.

Unfortunately, change and adaptation are two things some instructors fight as though their lives depended on it. However, their refusal to change sends a subtle message that says, “I have no desire to be a student again.” It also says, “I enjoy the instructor status I have.” The good instructor knows that the needs of his clients will change over time. He also knows that he must change and adapt to them, as well keep current on all the latest trends. This “change” will help keep new life in the training environment, as well as keep boredom and frustration at low levels.

Additionally, I believe it is important that the good instructor allow his or her students to find their own path, as well as change their choice of paths over time. A good instructor will not force his students down a path he thinks they should go. For example, if the student does not want to compete, the instructor should not force him to compete. However, if the student changes his mind at a later point in time, that’s OK. It’s the client’s prerogative to change his mind. The good instructor knows this and adapts!

A good instructor embraces change in the student, the academy and him or herself!

Five, a good instructor maintains a high level of awareness to those who have special needs; 1) Those who learn very quickly, 2) Those who learn at a slower pace, 3) Those who lack confidence or need reassurance, and 4) Those who do not possess a high level of coordination. The good instructor also pays attention to atmosphere of the class. He knows his students not only require him to be an excellent instructor who shares and cares, but he also knows they want him to be the keeper of the peace, a solver of problems and a judge of fairness and equality! In short, the good instructor makes every effort to stay keen about his students, as well as create and maintain a safe and enjoyable training environment for all.

Six, I believe a good instructor must have been a good student himself, for “it is impossible to lead if one has never truly followed.” Benjamin Franklin spoke these words long ago, and they are so true. In order to fully understand the needs of various clients, the instructor must have first been an exemplary student: One who has learned his craft by hands on experienced, followed the examples given by his instructor, made adjustments for his own personality and body type and then assumed more responsibility as it was given to him.

I believe the good student has the potential to become a good instructor. I also believe the opposite is true: the not so good student has the potential to become a not-so-good instructor. Now, I am not saying that a not so good student could not become a good instructor. I just know that people tend to be creatures of habit. If they have taken short cuts as students, they will more than likely do the same thing when they begin teaching.

Additionally, I believe the good instructor will always remain a student. He will always retain that child-like curiosity for martial arts. He will always be on the look out for more efficient ways to teach and perform.

Finally, I believe the good instructor must make the effort to become a kind, considerate and compassionate human being. Joking, talking negatively about or condescendingly to a student, or behind his back, or sharing confidential details with one student about another student are just a few examples of deeds that cause division and harsh feelings. The good instructor will lead by example. He will allow his actions to speak the intent of his heart. And, he will make every effort to stay above reproach.

I hope this article has been helpful and enlightening.

Good training to you,

Roy Harris