I received an email from Ryan, who recently got out of the Army, asking me for advice based on his question: “I want to be a firearms instructor and pass along my knowledge as well. I was just a normal infantryman in a reconnaissance and surveillance platoon. 1 tour in Iraq. I just don’t know the first step towards being an instructor.”
Well Ryan, here’s my answer to you: don’t be an instructor. Anyone can be an instructor. And as you can see from looking around the industry, anybody is. An instructor reads from a list of instructions. An instructor re-teaches what someone else instructed to him. This industry is full of instructors; people who just spout what someone else said, re-invent what someone has already invented, and hide behind gear and equipment as a substitute for knowledge or depth of knowledge. Instructors, who don’t know themselves, let alone their subject matter. You can step outside and throw a rock and it’ll land in front of someone who thinks they are an instructor. But does that kind of experience resonate with you? Is that what you think of when you look back on those people who made you what you are today? Want more for yourself than that Ryan, I do.
So here is my challenge to you Ryan: be a teacher. Teach. People. Take a vested interest in their learning. Take a moment and reflect back on your life Ryan. Who are the teachers that stand out? We’ve all had them. In the standard 12 years of schooling we each have about 40 or 50 different teachers, sometimes more, sometimes less, yet only a few of them are lasting. Mr. Wallenberg was one of my high school English teachers, both for my 9th grade and 11th grade English classes. And no, it wasn’t because I had to take freshman English twice. Mr. Wallenberg had life. He approached his craft as a journey and translated that journey to each and every one of us. Mr. Wallenberg was also a writer: he practiced his craft. His journey paralleled our journey. He didn’t read us instructions on character development, he taught us how to develop character based on his own experience and the experiences of writer’s before him. There is not a student that went through that school during his tenure that does not remember the manner in which Mr. Wallenberg taught us English.
Mrs. Kelly was another one. Today, the manner in which I write and edit my writing comes from the teachings of Jennifer Kelly. She is a writer as well. Her journey parallels mine, so much so that 20 years later I am honored to be a member of her monthly Writing Club.
The common thread here, Ryan, is teaching and learning cannot be separated. An instructor can pick up a set of instructions and read them because instructions have no life. But that is not you. You have life. You have learned. You put on this nations’ uniform and you went to war. Don’t be dismissive about that experience. It is a part of your journey. So go be a great teacher Ryan. Be a Mr. Wallenberg that introduces his students to a world of creativity or be a Jennifer Kelly that – 20 years later – still approaches teaching her peers with the same fervor she used with us as children.
Be a great teacher Ryan. Be a better learner. Go bring your journey to people’s lives.