Training Counselor: One Night Stand or Relationship?

I’ve written before about choosing a firearms Instructor, but what about if you are looking to become or already are an NRA Instructor seeking a Training Counselor? (Training Counselors train Instructors.) The basics of choosing an Instructor apply to choosing a Training Counselor and links to my posts on the topic are at the bottom of this one.

What follows is long, very long…
(unfortunately it needs to be)

The first question to ask is of yourself:

Are you only looking for a certificate, or are you seeking to be mentored?

If you are only looking for a certificate, you can get that with any Training Counselor. If you are looking to truly learn the material and much more in order to be a great Instructor, seek out a great Training Counselor.

If you’re seeking to choose a great Training Counselor, it should be a long term relationship. Paying attention to the factors outlined below won’t guarantee you find one, but it will substantially improve your odds.

Traits of a Great Training Counselor

  • Open Book
  • Follows NRA Rules
  • Stays Current
  • Is a Mentor
  • Is a Student
  • Teaches
  • Knows their Limitations

Open Book

Do you want to take a class from someone that appears to be in witness protection, held at an undisclosed location that you’ll find out only after registering for the class?

There is a very limited amount of text that can be placed into the comments section of a class listing on the NRA’s Instructor portal and it’s impossible to get a complete picture of the quality of a class from it. A Training Counselor can put website addresses into the comments, however, to lead a potential student to information sources. Evaluate what they put into the comments for the class: are the comments designed to give you information to make an informed choice; are the comments solely about classes they have taken; are there no comments, minimal comments, or aloof comments?

One of the first steps to choosing a Training Counselor is to do an Internet search on their name and another on their business name (putting the name into quotes such as ” John Doe” often helps focus on the right person/company).  What can be found in a few minutes spent doing research can be tremendously enlightening.

Where are the classes being held? If it is an undisclosed location that will only be revealed after registering and you are seriously considering that Training Counselor, contact them to ask why they are concealing that information and the exact location BEFORE you register. You have a RIGHT to know where and in what environment a class will be held before you register for it.

Do an Internet search for the address of the class. In some instances, you’ll find that it is the Training Counselor’s home. Depending on the arrangements, being in someone’s home could be awkward and a poor learning environment, or it could be comfortable and a good learning environment. Regardless, it almost certainly means that range portions of classes are held somewhere else; contact them to find out the location of the range they use—Google/Bing/etc. the range location.

If shooting portions of the class are held at a “private range”, you should ensure that it is safe (has an adequate backstop well above the targets—you are responsible for every bullet that leaves your gun, whether in a class or not) and that it is actually insured commercially as a firing range (don’t be afraid to ask for proof).

Follows NRA Rules

The NRA’s firearm training programs for both students and Instructor Candidates are well thought out, as are the rules for teaching them. Instructors and Training Counselors must teach the curriculum completely and as it is designed; they can add supplemental information, but they can’t skip parts.

By not following the program as it is designed, Training Counselors are depriving the Instructor Candidates of receiving the training experience that they paid for and need to be prepared for teaching their own students. Two of the most common areas where this happens is insufficient Instructor Candidates and not having them conduct the range portion.

NRA HQ requires that there are a minimum of four Instructor Candidates in a class. This is because the Instructor Candidates are supposed to take turns actually teaching the student class for the discipline certification they are seeking (Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Personal Protection Inside The House, etc.). They are also supposed to be broken into groups for certain modules; working in groups shows the value of team teaching. This is particularly important for the first class that an Instructor Candidate is going to take (usually Pistol Instructor).

Failing to have the Instructor Candidates conduct the range portion of the class is a particularly egregious violation of NRA Rules. The Instructor Candidates are supposed to be learning how to conduct the range exercises of that particular discipline. The best way to actually learn it is to conduct it under the watchful eye of the Training Counselor.

Stays Current

The firearms training world is constantly evolving; the same goes for the NRA training program. A Training Counselor needs to be constantly seeking out the latest information. This requires reading a great variety of information sources and being actively involved in online groups and forums for firearm trainers, especially those targeted at NRA Training Counselors.

This, however, doesn’t mean adopting the latest, greatest, cutting-edge training/tactic/etc. and passing it along. The great Training Counselor evaluates everything they are going to teach, personally vetting it. We live in a media driven world where everyone in the firearms industry is trying to make a name for themselves by “inventing” the latest training/tactic/etc. and marketing it through social media. It’s the responsibility of the Training Counselor to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Is a Mentor

The NRA concept of a Training Counselor is that they don’t just teach Instructor Candidates, they mentor them so that they can become the best possible Instructors. The relationship isn’t supposed to end after the class ends—Instructors are supposed to take their questions to their Training Counselor. If the Training Counselor doesn’t know the answer to an NRA related question, it’s their responsibility to contact NRA HQ, get an answer, provide it back to the Instructor, and know it the next time an Instructor asks.

Mentoring doesn’t end with NRA questions, it includes the vast array of knowledge about firearms, firearm training, business, teaching, and more.

The great Training Counselor doesn’t see other Instructors, or even other Training Counselors as competitors. They share their knowledge so that the training industry can evolve, making it better for students. They want to see others succeed, raising the bar and thereby the quality of available training.

Is a Student

It is said so frequently in the firearm training world that it has become cliche, but it remains true that a great teacher is foremost a great student. The great Training Counselor thirsts for knowledge and seeks it continually.

This can include taking training offered by other firearm trainers, but it must also include studying things such as adult learning and methods of instruction, shooting issue diagnostics, legal, trauma response, and anything else that impacts upon them, the Instructors they train, and the students of those Instructors.

Teaches

Teaching is far different from instructing. Instructing is delivering material typically developed by someone else. Teaching includes instructing, but the great Training Counselor takes steps to ensure not just that the material is covered, but that the material is learned and understood by their Instructor Candidates. The great Training Counselor can also add their own material that enhances what is learned and retained.

The great Training Counselor understands that people learn in different ways. They have the knowledge and teaching skills to present important points in ways that all of the Instructor Candidates can grasp and retain. Any stories they tell will be aimed at illustrating a learning objective, not self-aggrandizement.

Knows their Limitations

The great Training Counselor is keenly aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. They aren’t afraid to admit they don’t know the answer to a question, but they will either seek out the answer or refer the Instructor to someone that knows it.

Likewise, a great Training Counselor isn’t afraid to refer students to other Training Counselors and Instructors, especially if the training being sought is better received from someone else.

Evaluating Options When Selecting an NRA Training Counselor

First and foremost, you should consider the Return On Investment (ROI) of the training dollars you are going to invest. One of the worst mistakes you can make is allowing price to be a deciding factor—value is the appropriate yardstick.

Pricing set by a Training Counselor may be based on any of a variety of factors:

  • What are their financial expectations?
    • full-time occupation
    • part-time occupation
    • hobby
  • What is their investment in training?
    • training classes they have taken
    • training aids they have purchased (SIRT pistols, computer simulators, etc.)
    • do they lease a dedicated storefront
    • do they own a dedicated facility
  • What is the level of their experience and expertise?
  • What is their reputation?

Of course, those factors don’t always enter into the Training Counselor’s pricing method. Some will simply seek to undercut the price of everyone else so that they get  Instructor Candidates that are selecting classes on price, not value. Others may simply set a price that is in the ballpark of everyone else.

So how do you determine the method a Training Counselor uses to set a price? Simple—ask them! If they are lower than most, ask them to explain how they can provide the same quality of training for less than others Training Counselors. If they are higher than most, ask them how that higher cost translates to the training experience that you will receive.

If you are going to ask them questions concerning pricing, the most important question is how does the cost charged equate to value for you, the student?

Factors for Consideration

  • What did you learn from the NRA Instructors portal listing for the Training Counselor’s class?
  • What did you learn about the Training Counselor and what you will experience in their class from their own website and Facebook page?
  • What did you learn about the Training Counselor by doing an Internet search for their name?
  • What did you learn about the location where the classroom portion of classes will be held?
  • What did you learn about the location where the range portion of classes will be held?
  • What did you find about the Training Counselor’s philosophies pertaining to firearms, firearm training, and mentoring?

Taking the answers to all of those questions, you’re now in a far better position to discern the true value of taking a class from that Training Counselor.

Previous Blog Posts on Choosing an Instructor

Choosing an Instructor

Did your instructor do this?

Lots of Bad Instructors—Choose Carefully

Firearm Safety in the Classroom