An accidental instructor
A few weeks ago I was sat on a wall in glorious sunshine at Gildenburgh, being debriefed by Richard Somerset, a PADI Instructor Examiner, at the end of my PADI Instructor Exam. The IE was the end of what has been a twenty month journey from MSD to Instructor. Oddly I didn’t even set out to be an instructor, and this is how it happened…
During 2010 I had been chatting to my friend and dive buddy Ken Gibbs about sitting in on some divemaster theory lectures as an intellectual exercise as neither of us really fancied committing to a divemaster internship. One Saturday in September 2010 we sat down with Alex Varnals, PADI Course Director at Diving Leisure, to discuss our plan, along with a mug of the legendary wallet-loosening Diving Leisure tea.
Alex listened and then told us that there was an ‘option two’ - none of those pesky 6am starts or late Friday nights in the pool, just workshops with pretend students. This suited us fine as we had no real intention of working in the industry. My divemaster took fifteen months and was completed in December 2011. ‘Option two’ sort of never happened, though. After a few weeks of lectures and pool sessions I had become embeded in the dive team and was enjoying it. If I was to give any advice to any trainee dive masters, it would be get involved and work with real students - you will learn a lot. This in turn will prepare you for the assistant instructor (AI) course, which brings me onto my AI course.
At club night in December 2011, I was coming to the end of the DM and had realised that being an AI would make me more useful. As an AI you can assess skills in the pool under the supervision of an Instructor which greatly speeds up sessions with big groups, and it’s certainly more interesting than watching over students while thinking ‘I’m hungry and should have had a bigger meal’ at the bottom of the dive pit. Chatting to Alex over a beer I discussed my outline plan to buy some new regs in the first half of the year and do my AI later in the year. It didn’t work out that way. AI pre-study began on the last weekend of January and fellow DMs Peter, Tony & Hesh were already booked on. It would be a shame to not join them. After a couple of more beers I was signed onto the AI and also signed on to the full Instructor development course (IDC). It turns out that beer is just as good at loosening your wallet as Diving Leisure tea is.
The AI consists of classroom, pool and open water sessions. I didn’t realise how rusty some of my skills demonstrations had got. Our first pool session will not go down as one of my finest moments - kit removal with air still in your BCD does not make for a score of five. Pool session by pool session we polished our skills.
Then came open water. Blue Lagoon in February is cold - about five degrees C. As part of the AI you start evaluating skills and correcting problems, using fellow candidates as problem students. For example, your student is doing as mask removal drill and they drop it. We had to fix the assigned problem as well as sort our own problems. This was challenging. I have to admit I did think to myself: “Why am I going from being an experienced DM at the top of my game to a AI candidate at the bottom of the learning curve?” Happily, after 53 minutes in the water we had managed to get our act together and we all passed. Yippee! I was an AI. Next step was Egypt for a holiday and then onwards to the second part of the IDC - the OWSI.
The OSWI prepares you for two things: one is the Instructor Exam (IE) weekend, the other is real world teaching. The OWSI, like the AI, consists of pool, classroom and lectures. Believe me we did lots of them all. An IDC is a big commitment and you will begin to believe that you are living at the dive centre. In my case the IDC also coincided with the biggest project the company I work for has ever taken on - a hard combination to balance. My head hit the pillow at night with a hard thud on more than a few occasions.
The IE… Up to this point in your diving career all of your exams have been conducted by your local dive centre. The IE is different - you are examined by examiners from PADI, and yes, our Course Director, Alex Varnals, was there (glad he was, by the way), but you are on your own now. The first day of the IE consists of theory and standards examinations, teaching presentations, a pool session where you demonstrate five skills and teach one (with problem students again); the second day consists of a rescue assessment (exercise seven from the rescue course) followed by teaching two skills in open water.
Day one was good; I passed the theory, got a good score on the teaching presentation and had a fantastic pool session getting fives for all the skills and the teaching section (five being the top mark). The second day we were at Gildenburgh for an 8am briefing. First up was the rescue assessment. I passed it. Next up was open water teaching, in my case the hover from open water dive four and efficient fin kicks from the PPB course. The PPB skill went well and I got a five, spotted the problems and corrected them. When it came to the hover, my student had been told to skull. I was too busy watching his fin tips in case they touched the platform and as a result didn’t notice his sculling. At first I dropped a couple points for that, but still got a 4.6 - well above the pass mark.
Let’s go back to the wall at Gildy, being debriefed by Richard Somerset. The feeling when the examiner shakes your hand and congratulates you on passing your IE is amazing - you will smile for days afterwards.
Would I do it again, YES. It’s hard at times - it’s a roller coaster of emotions. Your instructor will work you hard and give you some difficult assignments, though this is a good thing.
If you are thinking of doing your PADI IDC and looking for a PADI Course Director to do it with, Alex really puts the effort in. If you put the commitment in, it will be matched by Alex.
What’s next? I have already signed up for five specialties, including sidemount diver and specialty instructor.
And I still haven’t bought my new regs!
By Mike Chatwood
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