In the tactical world, the word instructor is widely overused and has become an over-saturated description for many people. The meaning has become null in the sense that instructing and teaching are two very different approaches to the problem and the solution. For real world applications (high threat) instructing the solution isn’t enough as to teach the problem.

You are probably asking yourself already what is an instructor and where is the fine difference between instructor and teacher? Who should you strive to be?

In short answer.

An instructor will teach how to complete tasks.

A teacher will teach how tasks are created and solved.

So again, who should you strive to be? Technically none of the above, but we will get to this later.


The Instructor.

The common instructor will normally utilize one way of communication. He will typically begin with providing general information, afterwards he will give an opportunity to practice and eventually test the student.  A form of how “we do things here.” Simply put, an instructor is the one who instructs you how to accomplish certain “isolated” tasks, that are predefined and do not require a form or sort of analyzing. Instructing will often consist of creating repetitive patterns of solutions to repetitive problems, that require no understanding or analysis. An instruction is essentially unidirectional and provides no guarantee of learning what is ostensibly being “taught”.

A good example could be taken from the world of firearms. A typical instructor will teach that every time a weapon does not work, the individual should tap & rack, as this movement is designed as an unhesitating “Immediate Action” and involves no identification of the bolt for the cause. This reaction is most likely to be more compliant and efficient under fire, as misfire stoppages are more common (mistakenly viewed as user induced only).

A teacher on the other hand will teach what stands behind the word malfunctions. He will explain the differences and the economy of movement, and will create a subcategory of solutions that are based on a single thing – user driven analysis of the bolt as the beginning of solving the problem. He will do it based on cue he receives and that he received in the past from his own environment of practical work.

The Teacher

Teaching is bi-directional. In fact, you can’t separate productive, real teaching from learning. They are simply two perspectives of the same human interactive process. From the teacher’s perspective it is teaching, from the student’s perspective it is learning. Most people have experienced zero to barely any real teaching in their life.

A good example to that would be the modern school system and, if to be specific, mathematics. As a total failure in mathematics in school I can tell you, that the system prepared me to pass tests rather than performance. Back then, I was barely aware of this problem as I found ways to play the game and score as expected by remembering specific tables and charts, but without learning rules and principles.

It all changed when I got into long distance shooting later in the military, and mathematical problems became reality. It took me a lot of hiccups in the beginning, but ultimately I recognized, that my ability to perform beyond scripted problems was in fact fundamentally poor and that AGAIN I found ways around to solve problems intuitively. The reason for that, as at least I understood with the years, was that my time in math classes was not incorporating real teaching but a repetitive pattern of skills that prepared us students to pass a certain test and to meet certain standards. Meaning that if you understood the rules of the game and the drawings, you could score on the upcoming test, but not for performance on demand as you were not conditioned that way.

To conclude, the teacher will provide the student not only the appropriate solution to a given problem, but he will bring the student to a position of which he is able to understand the subject itself and to manipulate it deliberately to his own context or needed form of solution.  A good example could be the overused misunderstood term from CQB – the fatal funnel.

The fatal funnel traditionally describes a situation in room clearing, of which a cone-shaped path leading from the entry, where the assaulter is most vulnerable to defenders inside the room.With the years, as more and more people went through the modern military pipeline of instructing, the term fatal funnel became (culturally) a forbidden word that triggers immediately a negative subconscious response as the word is a taboo, a sin, a mistake that no one wants to be captured doing.

In reality, the word offers a conceptual understanding that could lead (once understood) to a better analysis of room clearing which in return would increase dramatically survivability, essentially the opposite than what the dogmatic approach preserves. This example represents a dogmatic state of continuous instruction, of which students were always punished or yelled at for stalling in the door way. Much like animals, generations of generations soldiers were habituated not to pause on the door and just to storm into a room, because any second next or in the door is guaranteed death and will buy you some negative reward from the instructor. Such feedback from instructors is normally never judged or criticized as it is commonly a one-direction conversation.

Who should you be.

None & both. Strive to be shapeless and formless but accurate and precise, when interacting with students. Understand the limitations and gaps. Recognize and fill into it, rather than letting it fill into your schedule or curriculum.

I had a particular experience with this when working overseas. Here and there I had a chance to interact with foreigners who had no educational background. I refer to it as to interact rather than teaching, because that’s how it really was. Interaction.  They had no idea about geometry, physics, nor they could even facilitate the simple PowerPoint presentation. This might sound simple, but any instructor, who did FID and showed commitment, could tell you of the struggle and concerns.

Think of a class of students as a wall composed of bricks. Each of these bricks represent a student, a human being, driven by heritage, experience and cultural perceptions. Between each of these bricks, there will be a material to fill the gaps and strengthen the wall. In some cultures, it will be mud as of no educational or social skills, while in some cultures it will be cement, a rich cultural background that will assist the student to understand all your tricks and tips. But in all types of walls, there will be gaps, holes and certain imperfects. Instead of letting those imperfects interfere with your teaching and set difference between the state of each brick – fill into it and turn it into an advantage.

Featured image courtesy of U.S. Army