Part two in my series of “gun people” getting words mixed up will take a look at who you are receiving your training from. Many people, especially instructors, confuse the words certified and qualified.
Certified can be defined as “having or proved by a certificate” or “guaranteed; reliably endorsed.”
Based on these definitions, it is reasonable to view a certified instructor as one who has met certain requirements to obtain a certificate in a specific discipline. This means that this instructor has attended a training course, school, or seminar that, at the end, provided this person with a certificate of sorts that allowed him or her to conduct training exercises or classroom material compiled by the certifying agency or organization.
Qualified, on the other hand, is defined “having the qualities, accomplishments, etc., that fit a person for some function, office, or the like.”
The question I pose is this: Can an instructor be “qualified” but not be “certified” and can an instructor be “certified” without being “qualified?”
The answer to both parts of this question is a resounding YES.
Example One, Hypothetical Instructor Sam:
Sam becomes interested in the use of firearms for self-defense in his early twenties. He takes many highly reputable defensive firearms courses, reads many books, and watches many videos from reputable sources over the next ten years. Eventually, Sam becomes a practical expert in the subject of the defensive use of firearms. He realizes he has knowledge that he would like to share with others.
Despite never having taken an actual instructor development course, Sam develops several courses on his own that can take a person from novice shooter to competent defensive shooter. He finds he has a talent for teaching and spends the next ten years teaching and developing courses while, at the same time, continuing his own education in the self-defense world from other reputable instructors. He continually finds new information that he incorporates into his own curriculum in order to provide students with the best training experience possible.
Example Two, Hypothetical Instructor Jim:
Jim grew up around guns. By the time he is in his early twenties, he decides to become a firearms instructor so he can pass on his knowledge to others. Dave takes a two-day instructor development course offered at a local shooting range. He passes the course with relative ease and obtains a certification through a nationally recognized organization to use their curriculum in a single course entitled Basic Target Pistol Shooting.
Jim organizes several of these courses over the next couple of years but decides he wants more from his training business. Despite never having taken a course other than his instructor development course, Jim writes course material for a few defensive shooting courses so he can offer his students something more advanced than their initial course. Jim bases the material in his course on his own experience as a shooter, common sense, and what he has learned from several friends that are in law enforcement and the military.
Of the two examples above, it’s pretty obvious that Sam is the “qualified” instructor that was never “certified” and Jim is the “certified” instructor that really isn’t “qualified” to teach much of the material he is teaching. If I were attempting to vet these two instructors and I had all of this information available, I would most certainly choose Sam over Jim any day.
Example Three, Hypothetical Instructor Dave:
Dave develops a serious interest in firearms at a young age. When he is old enough, he begins taking defensive shooting courses developed by a highly reputable nationally recognized training organization in order to develop his own knowledge. After a few years, Dave begins taking the instructor development courses of the same defensive shooting courses in order to teach others what he has learned. Eventually, Dave earns certifications in ten different shooting disciplines. Using his extensive knowledge, Dave conducts his courses based on the curriculum provided by this nationally recognized training organization but is always diligent to ensure he is teaching the most valid and up-to-date information.
Dave is an example of a well-rounded instructor that has both certification as well as qualification. He encompasses what most people should be looking for in an instructor.
Sam is a close second choice. Anyone that has put in the effort to develop their own training courses consisting of valid and relevant information based on all of their previous training is someone I would recommend training under. I might take a moment to question why Sam never acquired an official certification but his track record speaks for itself.
Unfortunately, Jim is the instructor I fear I see all too frequently. He may have some legitimate knowledge but has failed to ensure what he is teaching is something worth learning. His level of instruction has exceeded his level of qualifications by leaps and bounds. This kind of instructor should be avoided completely. If he isn’t willing to spend money and time to develop his own knowledge and skill, why would you trust him with your money and time to help you develop your knowledge and skill?
In the end, the difference between a qualified instructor and a certified instructor is pretty obvious. You should always vet your instructor. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their experience or for professional references. If they get defensive or evasive when asked, move on to someone else.
Worthwhile instructors tend to spend more energy talking about the value of their training program to you as an individual rather than the “cool factor” that they can provide in their classes. A good instructor shouldn’t have to draw people in with the promise of “flying ninja” moves or the opportunity to shoot “machine guns” during their training courses.
In other words, don’t discount the less “flashy” of us. These often overlooked instructors are quite often the best the industry can offer.