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Apr 30, 2013

How to become a Scuba Instructor

"As we huddled together, arms linked on the bottom of the ocean, shivering uncontrollably, I thought about the tropics and how much easier this could have been".

An international group of strangers had assembled in Sydney to undertake the Instructor Development Course, some of us just having just reached our first professional rating of Divemaster, which involved a three man, six dive, underwater mapping project, some search and recovery exercises, diver rescue and a bucket of other skills and requirements.
Divemaster course: Equipment exchange stress test

Interestingly, the biggest eye opener on the Divemaster course was the assisting on real beginner classes: where we helped instructors conduct the lightning fast, two day courses that the shop had designed which managed to get people certified over a weekend. Ironically, the 'eLearning' that new students were given well in advance, was often done late the night before, ensuring that they began the course exhausted from a night's studying....  But the results I witnessed were, overall, surprisingly good. By the end of the second day of training, these new divers could almost dive in control.

So I'd seen 'the aim' of instructor development in action. We were to be trained to keep our students safe while running them through tried and true diving drills, keeping it fun, but constantly reminding them of safe diving practices while we, as teachers remained at the ready for any questions regarding dive physics, physiology, equipment and skills etc. We were learning how to turn people's anticipation into passion, their fear into courage, and to change their lives for the better for ever. Inspiring stuff right?

Half of my fellow instructor candidates were living in a house together in reality TV style, so occasionally personal problems did make their way to work, but we were kept busy from morning to night, so only couple of feuds managed to fester all the way until the exams.

Instructor Development involved classroom time to introduce us to the formulae of teaching, keeping things consistent and up to standard. Presenting to our colleagues became quite fun as we were a supportive bunch. Even under the water we were egging each other on to do well during our teaching presentations.
Giving Positive Reinforcement to a 'student' after a skill (more photos)
At the pool, we'd brief each other on how our assigned skill should be performed and why it was important for safe and skilled diving. There was very little joking around as all of the training was conducted under exam conditions, with a grading sheet constantly lurking in the background.

The pool always seemed warm enough on entry, but after four hours it managed to zap every bit of heat out of our bodies even with seven millimeters of wetsuit! A bit of suffering can really make a group of colleagues tight.

Sydney's open water beckoned a drysuit, especially as our large class would be kneeling almost motionless in the sand under the murky green water, occasionally role playing as student and instructor, but I'd been warned by the owner of the dive shop that wearing a drysuit for the final exam would make things more difficult. His advice may not have been appropriate for seasoned cold water divers, but whatever... follow orders when you are a student.
Knots: one of the many skills required during an Instructor Exam
Our first open water session dive was ninety minutes long. As we huddled together, arms linked on the bottom of the ocean, shivering uncontrollably, I thought about some of the warm destinations I've worked in and how much easier this could have been.

Coming forward to teach the two assigned skills to the poor shaking candidates was challenging. Watching for problems assigned secretly to the 'students' was an exercise in concentration. The instructor exam would be similar, but failing to notice a problem would have more serious implications.

Perhaps these training conditions made us all better prepared for what would come. I found the murky surge of Sydney quite similar to some of the wreck dive conditions I've experienced in the North Atlantic ocean, so quite appropriate right?

The Instructor Exam
Over three days, we were tested on dive theory, the standards and procedures, classroom teaching, and practical assessments including the rescue of an unconscious diver on the surface. The written exams have a pass mark of 75%, so very little margin for error. The practical exams allow the candidates some latitude in the form of averaging marks across skills, but in general, everything has to be up to specifications for a candidate to pass.

The pool session involved a high level demonstration of five assigned skills, followed by a teaching session of one assigned skill. There were a couple of 'repeats' among my colleagues, both having to re-demonstrate the controlled emergency swimming ascent, but pretty strong across the board and the examiner was, so far,  happy with the way we had been trained.

Our examiner noticed my drysuit hose and asked if I'd be joining him in wearing a drysuit for the following day's ocean exam.... and asked why not, I replied "out of respect for my colleagues, I choose to freeze with them".

Shelly Beach was the scene of our exam in open water. Most of us were awake at 5am to allow time to prepare equipment such as dive flags, descent lines and lift bags. The first candidate taught the '5 point descent' which took us all down to the bottom. In turn we each came forward and taught two skills, correcting the secret problems assigned to each student. My second skill was the 'controlled emergency swimming ascent' during which my students spat out regulators, pulled on the ascent line and neglected to kick. Good fun.

After successfully completing our 'surface rescue' exercises we headed for shore to give debriefings to our mock class of attentive students.

Pass or Fail
Each of us were called over to the examiner to talk about our exam. Things that could have gone better, problems that might have been missed. I had a bit of a chat about North East Diving, video and the Andrea Doria which had been on his bucket list for years. Nice bloke.

Read a quick review of the Abyss Dive Operation in Sydney

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Everyone Passed! We're all PADI instructors now

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

FANTASTIC!!! wish I could have joined you!!! xx

Joanne Leonard said...

Great post Pete! I'm still trying to warm up now!! ;)