Guest blog for PADI Course Director Camille Lemmens
When I was young, my dad used to bang on about the six P’s: Preparation and Planning Prevents a P*** Poor Performance. The meaning is simple to understand, if you want to get a good result from something then you need to put the work in beforehand. Looking back, I guess when I was young I never listened to dad much which must have been pretty frustrating for him. In my school years, my time was generally spent staring out of the window and getting in to trouble as opposed to preparing for classes. This lack of preparation on my part resulted in various fates like having to do P.E. in my underwear and turning up for a very important exam in the afternoon when it was clearly advertised as being in the morning. It should come as no surprise that I left school without much in the way of impressive pieces of paper, it turned out that dad had a point.
As adults, the majority of us now know that if we want to get the most out of an experience then we need to put effort in to it, your Instructor Development course (IDC) is a great example of this. For many, one of the biggest considerations when deciding whether or not to become a scuba instructor is the initial cost. Making the financial commitment is a big deal but doing so does not guarantee success. It should be taken for granted that anyone who goes in to the Instructor Exam (IE) should do so with a view to pass but to what extent? Would you be happy to scrape through or would you want to ace it? Forget about the IE for a minute and consider the IDC as a standalone educational experience designed to prepare you for the big scary world as a scuba instructor, how much do you want to get out of it? Just enough to get by or enough to really empower you to be the best and most employable instructor you can be?
For most people there is a period of time between deciding that they want to become an instructor and the date their IDC starts. If you truly want to get the most out of the program and want to succeed as a scuba professional then this is a valuable period that should not be wasted. Whether you are a seasoned diver of many years or relatively new there are things that you can do in preparation for your IDC that will help build strong foundations for your course director to work with. And just to be clear, building up your alcohol tolerance before starting your gap year off does not constitute preparation! Here are some ideas for areas to focus on:
As much as dive crew members like to joke around and act the fool (something that comes a lot more naturally to some than others) there are strict standards throughout the instructor training process which have to be met. These start with prerequisites, in other words, what you need to have achieved prior to starting your IDC. Before starting instructor training there are some things that you have to have squared away. Depending on where you go to do your course you may well be able to fill in any missing gaps prior to the start date, if that’s the case then make sure your course director is aware of what you need before you arrive. Prior to starting the IDC (assuming you have to do the entire course – AI as well as OWSI) you’ll need the following:
• To be a divemaster (DM). If your DM cert is not from PADI then you’ll need to complete the rescue exercise from the PADI DM course. If you completed any course from entry level up to pro with a different agency (not PADI) then you need to make sure you bring your certification cards along with you.
• To be at least 18 years old.
• To have been a certified diver for at least six months.
• To have logged at least 60 dives (100 upon completion) and documented experience in night, deep and underwater navigation.
• To have a medical approval signed by a physician within the last 12 months stating you are fit to dive.
• To have completed EFR training within the last 24 months.
Before you can get signed off as an OWSI, you will need to be an Emergency First Response Instructor (EFRI). This is quite often built in to the IDC but does not have to be. As far as prerequisites go, if you do not have them already, including the EFRI, then make sure you are clear of their costs as they will no doubt be on top of the standard fee for the IDC.
Get Your Skills up to Scratch
In the IDC, you should be using your time learning how to teach, not learning how to do. I have seen many instructor candidates that turn up still having trouble with basics like hovering etc. If your demonstration of hovering looks scrappy then how does that help instill confidence in your students? Think about it from a 360 approach, if you turned up to your IDC and you noticed your course director couldn’t put his gear together very well then what would go through your mind? IDC candidates will always have development areas but time spent during the IDC learning how to hover properly as opposed to developing something like student control techniques is a waste of your time and money.
Its worth getting as much pool time as you can to work on your own skills as well as running through skill sets from the DM course. You can try listing skills that you did in your OW, AOW, Rescue & DM courses and then run through them. You may want to try to find recordings of other people demonstrating their skills on the internet, these help you visualize what it is you are trying to achieve. If you find an area you are not so strong in then that’s where you need to invest your efforts to practice.
Time spent assisting instructors teaching courses is exceptionally worthwhile. There are so many advantages in this, for example:
• You get to build familiarity with the syllabus.
• You get to see real life issues that students have and then how the instructor helps overcome them.
• You may well get time with students helping them practice.
• Your comfort level with the skills increases.
• You start getting used to being on the instructor side of the course as opposed to the student side.
In your IDC you will have to do a rescue scenario – Unresponsive dive at the surface. You will have done this already in your rescue course as well as your DM but now you need to learn how to do it to demonstration standard. If you can, it will help you immensely if you can assist other instructors in delivering a rescue course. The skills in this course can be pretty complex and managing them effectively requires quite a bit of thought from the instructor. Instructors always appreciate extra bodies on rescue courses to be victims, role play actors, equipment handlers etc so your involvement should be gratefully accepted.
Further to the above, there are other skills that may well feature in your IDC which are not so obvious like compass skills, knots and lift bag use. Re-visit your AOW course and make sure you are absolutely comfortable in how to take a bearing with a compass, navigate a reciprocal and a square. You do not even need to be in water to practice these. Also from the AOW course, take time to get up to speed with your three knots – the bowline, sheet bend & round turn and two half hitches.
When people make a mess of deploying lift bags & SMB’s things go south fast. It is hard to try to maintain a professional image while looking like a kitten tangled up in a ball of string being carried fins first to the surface by a lift bag you inflated, your “students” in front of you try to keep a straight face as they watch your demonstration wondering what is going to happen next. End every dive by deploying your SMB, even when not required so that when you get in to your IDC it is second nature.
Beyond all that, just get out there and dive. The more experience you can get, the better. It really does not matter if it is in your local quagmire or out on a stunning reef, try to get as much experience as a diver as you can.
Know Your Theory
Unsurprisingly (I hope), to be an instructor you need to have a good understanding of dive theory. As well as the theory exams you are going to have to sit, you will be expected to give knowledge development presentations on various subjects. Beyond all this, you need to be thinking of life after the IDC, when you are out there in a classroom full of open water students and someone asks you a question, trust me, you do feel like a bit of a tit when you don’t have the answer.
Go through your knowledge developments, quizzes and exams from your OW, AOW, Rescue, EFR & DM theory as well as at least nitrox & deep from your specialties. Try to avoid just remembering the answers and really make sure you understand the content of the subject. This helps you answer questions when they are presented in different contexts to how you have found them so far. You can find some really useful pieces on the internet but be careful, it turns out that some online content is not entirely accurate!
In your DM crew pack you should have had some reference materials which will help. The Encyclopedia of Recreation Diving is an amazing resource. Its big and has lots of words but is well worth the read. In addition to this you should have a copy of the instructor manual. Take time to get comfortable with how to navigate your way through it and understand where you need to look to find a general standard versus a standard for a particular course.
As I have already mentioned, I didn’t do very well at school so did not really have a strong educational background to help me through the theory work. I personally found the Diving Knowledge Workbook a world of use.
To be an instructor you will need your own gear. It is fairly common for instructors to use a little shop gear here and there but the expectation when hiring a PADI professional is that they have good working, well maintained equipment of their own. Make sure you know what regulator fittings they have where you are going, so if you have DIN regs you may well need to buy a DIN-Yoke converter. Also consider the changes in global units of measurement, if you are used to one but the place you are going to do your IDC uses the other then you will need to be aware of the conversions, things to consider are feet vs meters, pounds vs kg’s, Fahrenheit vs Celcius, Bar v PSI.
It is best to have fairly standard gear to use when instructing. For example, there is nothing in the standards that prevents you from having a backplate/wing configuration as opposed to a BCD but it is most likely your students will be learning in a standard jacket style BCD so think about how relevant your demonstration will be when you use kit that is different to what your students have.
When you get in to the IDC, it is worth looking at everyone else’s gear to ensure you understand its use if different from yours. If you are used to a standard pressure gauge but some candidates have their pressure displayed digitally on their computer then ask for a run through as to how it works, its best to find this kind of stuff out early on as opposed to when you are giving a demonstration on how to teach an out of air exercise.
My recommendation is to get your kit as soon as you can so you can build familiarity with it in the run up to your IDC. Requirements for the IE are:
• Fins, mask & snorkel
• Buoyancy control device with low pressure inflator.
• Regulator with alternate air source and SPG
• Timing device, depth gauge & compass
• Knife or cutting tool
• Blank slate
• Two surface signaling devices – one audible like a whistle and one visual like an SMB
• Weight Belt
• Pocket mask
This is not a deal breaker but it does help during your IDC and then getting a job if you are kinda in shape. Your IDC is tiring, you will be working lots of hours and will likely end the days physically and mentally exhausted. If you spend some time before your IDC developing your fitness then it will help you manage those long days.
Beyond the IDC, getting a job may be a little easier if you are in shape for two main reasons. Firstly, from a safety and practical point of view, if you find yourself in a position where you have to assist someone by pulling them in to the boat but you generally struggle to get yourself in the boat in normal conditions then you are not off to a good start. Depending on where you work you may have to get involved with physically demanding roles like changing over the tanks on the boats. Hauling 80 empty tanks off a boat and replacing them with 80 full ones in the midday heat is hard work.
Secondly, image is important for a dive centre. Some potential employers may not want to offer a job to someone who they feel does not have the right image. This could mean someone who smokes, has heavy tattoos or piercings or who is noticeably physically unfit. Rightly or wrongly, most dive centres like to promote an image of being healthy and active, their staff are instrumental in maintaining this image.
Start Thinking About the World of Work
Getting your instructor certificate is a big deal but in truth, it’s just the beginning. What you are going to find is that there is quite a bit of competition out there for jobs for freshly certified instructors. You need to start thinking about how to stand out from the crowd in order to get started. You may have something lined up already but if not I strongly advise that you start thinking about how you are going to make it happen, check out my posts on the “Being an Instructor” tab on my blog page for some ideas.
During my IDC I recall other certified instructors who were around at the time telling me that they had a great time during their IE. I personally had such a sense of impending doom that it seemed impossible that the IE could be anything like fun. When I got there, I was surprised to find that there were no nasty PADI dragons waiting to tear me apart and after passing the written exams I actually did enjoy the whole experience just like others had told me I would. This time, I had prepared, very thoroughly indeed and it was this preparation that enabled the experience to be fun. No one wants to have to write that Facebook status telling the world that they failed and there is no reason why they should have to as long as they put the required effort in. In summary, my advice to you is get the basics nailed, prepare well, learn lots in the IDC and then have fun blitzing the IE. Good luck!