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Who are You Supposed to be Now?

The core problem, I believe, is that it is so easy to see the positives in everything.

I'll wait until you stop laughing.

I'm starting a Cavern/Intro class tomorrow for a single student. And I love classes like that. Especially because this will be my first time working with this student; since I don't know them or what their diving and abilities are, working one-on-one will give me a lot of time as the instructor to feel them out, figure out how they learn best, and tailor the class precisely to them.

When I work with someone one-on-one obviously I can give them my full attention. There is no disparity in experience or ability with another diver, so no one is in the position of being potentially left behind, nor does anyone need to slow down to let their buddy keep up. I can push someone as hard as they have the capacity to be pushed and I can ease off when they legitimately need space.

Even more obviously, there's the freedom from anyone else's schedule if a student requires a little extra time or attention on certain things. If someone is REALLY fussy about their gear and wants to get everything JUST right, without anyone else in the class we can spend an hour geeking out over a single boltsnap without feeling like we're wasting anyone's time. If someone is having trouble with a skill, we can spend an entire day repeating that one thing without worrying that anyone might be getting bored.

The positives of a private class are obvious and the sort of things which may appeal enough to people that it can be considered a premium service. It gives the student the uninterrupted attention of the instructor and it gives the ethical instructor the flexibility to keep their sole student just outside their comfort zone in an ideal learning zone close to 100% of their time together.

The drawbacks of a one-on-one class are less obvious.

One major drawback is only a drawback to one party... the instructor. And only if they, like me, can't be bothered to come up with a different pricing structure for one-on-one classes as a premium. Class doesn't matter, number of students doesn't matter; I am going to put in as much effort and attention for each person no matter the task I'm called upon to perform, so why would I charge differently based on class or number of students?

(That is, at least, my pseudo-ethical justification for not hammering out a more sophisticated pricing structure. The reality is that I'm a diver, not a businessman. And I can't be bothered staring at spreadsheets and cost/risk analyses, or whatever accountancy terms would need to be applied to the metric. If I cared about any of that shit I'd manage a hedge fund.)

The real drawbacks of one-on-one are more subtle. Not bad, per se, but there and worth being aware of.

The single biggest:

Without a buddy to learn with you're not learning how to be the best buddy.

When you are learning one-on-one the instructor is your buddy. Your teammate. The person who you can count on. But - and this is important - the person who can count on you, too.

Buddies make mistakes. And part of being a good teammate is knowing how to anticipate, knowing how to identify, and knowing how to correct those mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes as a "teammate," and I wait for the corrections to come. I make them in predictable places and I often ham them up as an actor to make clear that I am making a really obvious mistake right now. And I wait for the corrections to come.

But they frequently don't. Frequently they come up in debrief at the end of the dive. Frequently I don't even have to bring them up. My students will say, "Hey, at that one tie off, you went off in the wrong direction, I was wondering what you were doing."

They knew, even in the moment, I was making a mistake as a teammate. But I'm not a teammate, am I? I'm their instructor.

I am the person who is guiding them and teaching them and - critical for the trust of a student/instructor relationship BUT what hinders their ability to learn how to be a good teammate in this - I am the person who knows what I am doing. They have identified that I am doing something "wrong," but assume I must know what I am doing and that it is is, therefore, not wrong and does not require correction.

Even trickier is when we're working on team problem solving exercises where the problem... is your teammate. For example: I have this bubble gun, an air nozzle. I disconnect my drysuit inflator hose and hook this nozzle at the end and it shoots bubbles; I point it at students' valves and we pretend that valve has broken. I'll stop shooting bubbles at your head when you've taken the correct steps that would correct the regulator failure I've invented in my head.

One of the things an afflicted diver needs to do is tell their buddy there is a issue. Which I know. Because I'm the issue. So now my student is stuck trying to spin around to get my attention so that I can help them fix a failure they are already trying to solve which I am singlehandedly creating. You see the problem?

It's a shitty Catch-22. And the weight of the paradox, the shortcoming of the situation, all falls on the student. The person who may have paid extra for the privilege.

In this, last, example everyone's capacity to learn, without the confusion of wavering instructor/buddy roles, is increased significantly by the existence of a legitimate teammate. If a diver suddenly has a failure caused by an invisible cave gremlin (me) who appears out of the darkness and plays no expected, active role in the management of the failure then the affected diver can respond, including getting his otherwise uninvolved buddy involved. Everything in the learning scenario happens more "true to life."

If I've learned anything in my years as an instructor (debatable) it is that practicing things as they would actually happen in real life best prepares a person to respond.

Now this is not to say that one-on-one classes are, therefore, lacking as a rule. Something else I've learned as an instructor is that there are some, if not many, people who flourish one-on-one when a teammate may have held them back in some way. The world is a funny, old place full of unimaginable diversity.

All the benefits of a one-on-one class still apply... just worth remembering that there are drawbacks, too. Worth thinking carefully about what you want to learn, what you need to learn, and how it is going to be learned best.

One other such drawback:

"There are no stupid questions," goes the saying... but the joke continues, "Only stupid people."

And we all chuckle. Because we've all heard stupid questions. There are stupid questions. Maybe it's more fair-minded to say, "there are poor timed questions?" But fuck fair. There are stupid questions. And none of us wants to be the one to ask one.

Which isn't fair. Especially in a class setting. Because odds are very good that if someone in the class has a question... EVERYONE in the class has that same question. It's probably not a stupid question. It's probably a stupid instructor who glazed over information casually, or forgot to lay groundwork information, or is just a shitty instructor who doesn't know how to present the information. So now you've got two or more students sitting there with the same question on their lips, but no one wants to ask it because they don't want to be the one to ask a stupid question.

But they'll ask eachother.

Having a peer from whom you can learn - with whom you can learn - is invaluable. Picture this: having had that same question, after class, maybe you can go and seek out that information with your classmate. And if you and a teammate FIND the information instead of both of you just hearing me tell you during an hour of droning on... you're both going to remember that info for WAY longer than anything I told you.

When we see someone doing something incorrectly we want to help them. That's how empathy works. When students see (or feel, in the case of lights-out drills) their buddy doing something wrong, just as often as not I have to stop them from intervening, knowing we'll be able to talk about this later, during debrief. I can not even begin to tell you the amount of learning that comes from that.

Suffice it to say that it is a LOT more learning than achieved by watching me mime out incorrect actions, which always seem to come across as more of a song-and-dance spectacular than a diver in any distress (even on those occasions when I've been thinking, "I really hope my student doesn't notice that I'm actually in a bit of trouble here").

The biggest value to a teammate/buddy, however, is someone to go out for tacos and beers with at the end of the day to discuss what a monstrous bastard I can be at times. Because I can. Or, at least, I'm sure I can seem that way. I don't feel like a bastard. I feel like a fairly competent instructor and a guy who really likes helping people flourish as a diver.

But classes are hard. They're challenging. And while I don't think I'm a bastard, I am going to challenge you. I have to, I have a moral and ethical (hell, a legal) responsiblity to prepare you to be a safe diver for yourself and your team in an environment with significantly elevated risk. It's hard to teach that and it's sure as shit hard to learn that.

It's exaughsting, physically and mentally. Spritually, even, after a couple of days of seemingly doing everything wrong and you start second-guessing whether you should even be allowed to dive.

It helps to go out with tacos and beers with someone feeling the same way. It helps to remember you're not alone.

I felt that way, of course. Oh so many times. I still do all the time. But I don't feel it the same way as my students. I can sympathize with them, empathize, even; but it can't be a mutual, concurrent experience. I am the person they must trust with authority, not companionship... they can't exatly relax around me, I am the person who tortured them all day today and is just going to tear into them about their performance again tomorrow. I am not a bastard, but I am their instructor, not their buddy.

Whether it's about learning, or companionship, blowing off steam, or simply not feeling like crap about yourself after a challenging day... we're social creatures, sometimes we need a buddy.

Or not. Personally, I think I've always done best one-on-one. Which is why I tend to spend my down time alone in a room typing instead of... I dunno... doing whatever stupid, weird shit it is extoverts do in their spare time.

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