Students often ask me whether I have eyes in the back of my head. They wonder how I knew what they did when they didn’t think I was looking. A combination of risk management, experience and good underwater control can make it seem as though you not only have eyes in the back of your head, but can predict the future as well, when you either prevent a problem from unfolding or react to a student’s difficulty quicker than they do.
These skills are important at every level of instructor, but tec instructors look after their divers in environments such as overheads, decompression dives and at extreme depth.
That’s all well and good, I hear the less experienced instructor saying, but how do I develop these skills?
First we need to get our priorities in the right order. The first priority is always safety and my second objective is student comfort and enjoyment. Hopefully you can combine these, but if you have to choose, safety comes first. Once you have all these in place then, and only then, training requirements can be attempted. It is very important that we remember that while training may be the purpose of the dive, it is only important when safety and comfort have been established.
When I’m preparing for any dive I go right back to the skills I learned on the PADI Divemaster and Instructor Development course; I try to predict what could go wrong, both with the dive and when divers are attempting to complete training skills. Then I think about which problems may be avoidable and how to prepare for problems that may come up despite my best efforts, such as a diver finding something difficult. I remind myself what I need to mention in the dive briefing to make the dive go smoothly and prepare the divers without sending them to sleep with a long drawn out lecture covering everything I have ever learned.
On the journey to the dive site or while kiting up and preparing, I watch my students to see how comfortable they are, just like I learned on the PADI Rescue Diver course and developed during my professional training. I try not to judge but to be curious about the reasons for their behaviour. After all, it’s important to recognise that we all react differently; those of you who know me can probably guess that a quiet Vikki is not the norm! But, there are many divers who are usually quiet and may chatter more when nervous or uncomfortable.
In the water my challenge to myself during any dive is to always know the status of my divers systems. This is particularly important when tec and rebreather diving, but can be applied equally to all levels. So, what do I mean by systems? How much gas divers have left (in all cylinders), whether the cylinder valves are open or closed, what’s in the loop on a rebreather, decompression status, and any other information relevant to the dive such as when one piece of equipment blocks another or something starts to unravel, dangle or has the potential to cause problems. Does that sound like a lot? IT IS! But this is the information that helps you maximise your student’s learning and “see into the future” to ward off or deal with problems. If you find yourself floating aimlessly with your mind drifting when you’re teaching, work harder!
When I thought I was ready to be a rebreather instructor course (2000) I started by assisting on a diver level course. The students were doing a skill and I noticed my instructor trainer move slightly closer to them. My open circuit experience made me recognise that he had seen something and was moving in closer in case he needed to intervene, BUT I didn’t know what he had seen. I had missed it! After the dive I asked if I could do some more assisting before I went onto the instructor course. I clearly was not ready for this level. This certainly paid off and when I did my instructor course, I felt confident and comfortable with my teaching abilities.
I guess the message here is to expect and demand more of yourself and you will keep growing as an instructor. Hold yourself to the highest standards, embrace opportunities for further training and don’t be shy about asking other instructors if you can train with them or assist them. The best instructors are constantly looking for new ideas and techniques to improve themselves and if you haven’t reread the student diver level manuals recently, give it a go – I’m always amazed by how much I relearn.
Vikki Batten, Director, Rebreather Technologies