Who is a cave diving instructor? Despite the view that I’ve come across quite a number of times over the past couple of years this is not a dude in well-worn gear who gets into some dumpy places and smokes weed in between the dives.
We all know that cave divers are the upper crust in diving. At least the real ones, that is those who dive into caves at full cave level more or less regularly. And they become the elite not easily. Such people go through courses being already experienced divers with certain amount of dives and training under their belt. Added to that they are also quite well-off, mature and very intelligent, accomplished specialists successful in life. So these intelligent people put in a lot of money and effort to make their dream come true, i.e. to become cave divers. Surely the person who is paid, i.e. the instructor needs to be a role model, a real professional, well educated, intelligent and able to teach. And, as any teacher, he should be polite, tactful and level-headed. He should become a trusted mentor, a real guru in his sphere. Logical, isn’t it? And in ideal circumstances, that’s what it’s like.
How can one become first an instructor and then an instructor trainer (which means the highest qualification of all possible)? Setting aside a variant of just buying a certificate (brutal truth), I’ll tell you about a legitimate and right way. First, we all become ordinary cave divers. Then we dive in a great number of caves, build on our experience during long hours of dives, attend seminars, learn from the best of the best and keep diving, learning and keeping up to date with all the current trends. An instructor does a lot of cave diving just as a fan, which means without any students, for the sake of broadening their own outlook. They always have the best possible equipment. And, what’s more important, they are excellent teachers. Their course is always perfectly planned and structured, so that a student would always know what is expected from them and what the training would be like, as well as what they need to do to successfully complete the course. There must be no ambiguities, hidden information or nasty surprises. Students work on the edge of their abilities without going beyond them. They overcome themselves, learn how to think in a new way, go out of their comfort zone (but not too far so that it doesn’t become unsafe or less exciting). One should remember that diving, even serious diving, is still done as a hobby and entertainment and needs to be enjoyed. Even going through the most challenging course one would aim at making it an enjoyable experience.
You don’t have to be the most charming person in the world or investigate the narrowest and the most difficult caves to become a good instructor. It’s enough to just know exactly what you are doing and be able to get your message across to students without violating standards, without backing students into the corner with useless and fanciful actions and not making up own standards and skills that are not only dangerous but also just stupid. There are always two ways of increasing one’s credibility: to be really the best or to be determined to become one and to TEACH the person everything you can. Or for those who want “to seem”, not “to be”: to make up skills like tearing off the mask ten times in a row, ripping out the line from your hands (preferably directing the torch right into your eyes, when you’re taking off the dark mask), searching for a long hose behind your back (and of course it’s very important to throw it away as far as possible) and then to find one million mistakes and tell the person how bad they are). It’s common knowledge that noone’s perfect and it’s possible to find flaws in everything you do, however well you do it, right?
A good instructor would never shout at their student. To raise your voice when speaking to a client? Or to anyone at all? Seriously? It’s like admitting your own incompetence.
They would never use an argument like “because I said so”.
A good instructor would never exhaust a person sucking them dry. Guys, we are all human beings and to work for 12-16 hours a day doing a series of dives is a sign of total incompetence.
Unable to fit in the learning plan? Take an extra day or learn at last how to conduct a course without sitting into midnight!
A good instructor would never use any kind of manipulations, including financial ones, would never lie or economise the truth, they wouldn’t put their own interests above others’. They wouldn’t “remember” a couple of days after you finish the course that you haven’t demonstrated a skill that nobody has ever mentioned to you before. They wouldn’t congratulate you with the completion of the course if they are not ready to put their signature under every word they utter. And, most likely, they would review their attitude to their profession and what they do if their student put the certificate they issued into a rubbish bin.
All the above said related to direct violation of professional ethics and should be liable to punishment. There should be mutual respect, clarity and trust between an instructor and a student. In the end of the day, when you both appear under water, especially, in a cave, you should be 150% sure that you can trust this person with your life.
The financial side of the issue should also be mentioned. Personally I have always been happy to give my own money for all the courses I’ve taken (with a couple of exceptions, of course, otherwise this article wouldn’t have appeared) and I strongly believe that I have gained much more than I have paid. Money is pure exchange of energy and professionalism costs a lot, it goes without saying. However, if on completion of a course you feel that you’ve given more than you’ve gained , in all senses, you’ve definitely chosen the wrong instructor.
Learning from the best always costs every dollar, every effort and every single minute of the time you’ve spent on it.
Dear divers, and this refers not just to cave divers, but to everyone who decides to take any kind of course! If you’ve come to take a course, it doesn’t mean that you should quietly agree with everything that happens. You have the right to voice your opinion and to disagree with your instructor if you feel what is happening is unacceptable.
Don’t be shy to make everything clear “on the shore”, to ask about everything that causes even the smallest doubt and to make your own conclusions. If your first impression is negative, trust your intuition, it is usually the most accurate one. And please learn to say NO to the lack of professionalism, overblown sense of self and attempts to cheat you out of money, time or anything else!
“Shit happens when good people turn their backs on it” – let’s stop turning our backs on it and then there will be much fewer bad instructors. Peace to everyone!
IANTD Advanced Nitrox Instructor,
IANTD Cave Diver, cave guide.