Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
By a dive class, I mean.
Was it an instructor who had no idea what they were doing or business teaching anyone to do anything? Was it because the class was too easy or because the class was too hard? Different agencies have different safeguards against both of these possibilities. And those safeguards can be effective to greater or lesser degrees. Some agencies require that everything be taught in a prescriptive way: there is no variation from exactly the skills listed in the standards neither more nor less. Even the manner in which skills are taught must be confined to exactly how instructors were shown how to teach them. Other agencies give instructors a great deal more leeway. We can change skills around, we can demand our own minimum prerequisites and required performance levels. Some allow us to do just about anything we like (within sanity and reason). There's a strength and a weakness to both philosophies. The weakness of the former is the inflexibility. Like standardized testing: it must be written with the average in mind. This doesn't make allowances for someone who can be pushed closer to excellence nor shepherded along at a gentler pace. The obvious strength is that you know exactly what you're going to get (for better or worse). The latter has the strength of the capacity to be wisely flourished by an experienced and responsible instructor. The obvious weakness is openness to an abuse of freedom. And it's this last case that I'm wondering most about today (after a very last-minute cancellation that has me sitting around thinking too much instead of swimming around on my Meg). Pondering classes that are too easy or too hard. The classes that are too easy are an obvious failure. Instructors who don't have a comprehensive understanding of their course. And I'm not talking about the Golf Ball Recovery Diver Specialist course... there's no help there. I'm talking about how a Buoyancy class is - or SHOULD be - a lot more than "Good, you can hover vertically without moving your hands too much." The classes that are too hard are almost more nefarious. Instead of an implicit, "This stuff doesn't matter," it implies audaciousness. Underwater that shit can be risky. I've known instructors to boast, "Almost no one passes my class the first time around." That's absurd. You're abusing your flexibility and freedom to set an irrational bar and your students aren't really learning anything other than "you're the best and they're worthless pukes." One hears tell of unusual skills performances or gear requirements that run anywhere from the weird and silly to the outright dangerous. And in the case of graduation a student might wield that as a pass of invulnerability. These classes and instructors can often be identified by phrases such as, "No one else has the ability or the guts to teach like me," or "No one else does things like this, but I know best." With a little bit of research, they can also be identified by the number of times they've been reported to or, in some cases, thrown out of training agencies for doing things their way. Personally, I like the flexible approach. I like being able to go above and beyond; I like to discuss exactly what will be expected of my students all along the way. Frequently (where allowed) I'll send a copy of the standards for the class and then we will talk about where they might be exceeded and why. But, I also have been trained in prescriptive teaching and see a real value in keeping things fairly "typical." And I'll be goddamned if I ever do anything where there may exist the possibility that I will have to explain to someone's family, "Well, the reason we were doing something that no one else in the whole world thinks is a good idea when they died was because I know better than everyone else in the world." Do your research. Interview potential instructors. See if you've got a hint of chemistry. Try to get a feel for their reputation not just from their past students, but also among their peers (though I'm sorry to say this last bit is going to exercise your intuition as much as anything).
Don't take a class because you know you're going to pass it easily; be challenged. Don't take a class just because you think so-and-so is a rock-star and then then think less of yourself because you didn't click with them. I'd be horrified to think that anyone ever felt cheated by a class I taught for any reason. That said, I'd be totally willing to fill our pool with golf balls and make someone swim around blindfolded picking them up. It would be friggin hilarious.