10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

This article about '10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor' is written by Marlies Wolters, as a guest blog writer.
Marlies completed her PADI IDC with back in 2010 on Koh Samui in Thailand and last year she completed her PADI IDCS course with me in Moalboal in the Philippines.

We go a long way back and since she started her own website Dive O'clock and blog, please check here, it was a logical step for me to ask her to become a guest writer on this blog.

After Drew's great article as a guest blog writer on how to prepare for a PADI IDC, Marlies has now excellent tips and suggestions for life after an IDC, have a look here after my thanks to Marlies for taking the time out to write this blog;

For years I thought being a Divemaster was the perfect way to travel the world and earn money at the same time, until I became a diving instructor. Once certified a new dimension was given to my passion and I found out I still had a lot to learn!

After working as a Divemaster (the first professional SCUBA dive level with PADI) for several dive centers in different countries I was ready for the next level in diving. In 2010 I decided to do my IDC (the PADI course to become a dive instructor) because I thought it would be really cool to actually teach people new things, see the change in their skills and knowledge and be the one besides them to discover this new world I'm so passionate about. As a Divemaster you can guide certified divers (which I still love as well!) and help out a dive instructor with courses. It's a great way to learn a lot, have fun and earn some money! The IDC will cost a lot of money but it can be (as perfectly marketed by PADI) a real life changing decision. If you decide to go for your IDC, selecting a location, IDC Center (school) and Course Director (teacher) are very important. Each one of those three variables will give a different outcome.  The same counts for people deciding where to start their diving adventure. 

More about different dive organizations and courses you can read in this blog post in Dollface Magazine

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor; Teaching children

Here are 10 things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor!

1. Finding a job without experience can be hard

You just finished your education and have way less experience than all the other candidates applying for a job as diving instructor. How to get that dream job? You've got the most recent education, everything is still on top of your mind and you are eager to learn in real life! The key is: Networking! While you're in your IDC, or better beforehand, connect with people in the industry and ask around! Show your personality and ask people to help you out. I asked the potential Course Directors for my IDC what my job opportunities were at that IDC Center/area. Be careful when dive centers offer some sort of internship with the IDC because you might up ending up working for free... Make a good calculation before you go for a package deal! 
I was lucky to be able to start teaching at same dive center right after my IDC and I found a few jobs with connections from my Course Director, Camille Lemmens, even years after the IDC.  

2. Learning HOW to organize courses is still new

This is one of the first things you will learn during your first courses. You know perfectly fine WHAT you need to teach, are drilled to demonstrate it the perfect way and know all the tiny things that show lack of performance requirements - but how to organize it? You've got the slates (PADI) in your hands, the dive center owner has explained you things about the organization, but the rest is up to you and now your students are real! Things happen that you didn't train for and your whole perfect schedule is mixed up within the first 10 minutes. Your students are on their holiday and want to 'get it over with' while you want them to do every skill the perfect way, to give them the best experience... 

Relax! What really helped me was to ask questions! Ask other instructors how they organize the days and even more important: Ask your students what they want! I asked my students every day after the course what they loved and what I could do better/differently. You might disagree with them, but if you're hearing the same thing over and over again - drop your attitude and change for the better! Don't stop with this, even after teaching for years. It's a good habit! One of the things I learned considering swimming pool sessions: bring a lot of extra stuff for the first session where students can be really nervous! 
Extra weights, an extra mask (for water-in-the-mask problems), defogger or baby shampoo (to clear masks), an extra wet-suits for the ladies (they might get cold), things like that. The worst thing is having to get all the students out of the water and/or have them waiting next to the pool so you can go back to the dive center to get those things. Of course this depends on where you teach and the distance between pool and dive center for example.

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor; entering the water in an organized way

3. Preparation and organization is one of the most important things

It's an easy one, but it's better to sleep on things beforehand than to lie awake about them afterwards. Even if you're really tired after a day of working, cleaning equipment and filling out the paperwork - it's better to prepare for the next day right away. Think about what's happening the next day. Are you starting a new course? What do you need for that course? How about the paperwork? How many students? What is the plan? What is the weather going to be? Get the teaching materials, paperwork and dive equipment ready. Probably you're not the only instructor/dive guide around, so make sure you're not 'in the way' or 'selfish' with your preparation. Check the schedule for your colleagues, think about the stuff your colleagues might need - make a plan... 
You will learn a lot about project management in real life! I had to come up with many creative (but safe) ideas to make teaching a bit more relaxed. From marked ropes (measuring), buoys, funny toys for teaching children to training aids for more specific courses (PADI Specialties). Mark your students equipment with colored cable ties, tape & marker, name tags, etc. The best part is when other instructors want to borrow or copy your training aids, it feels great!  

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor; Tagging

4. Learning to leave students in their comfort zone

This is a mayor time saver and money maker! Every person is different and learns in a different way. Especially with Open Waters or DSD's (try dive) the most effective way of teaching is to stay in their comfort zone. 
This is one of the reasons why small groups are better, it's easier to adapt to peoples needs, but that's probably not your call. It starts with your introduction! If you are around the dive center and people pass by or walk in, give them a warm welcome! Get off your chair, leave your mobile/computer screen and shake hands. Ask questions and give them a cup of coffee, some water, etc. (if provided). Ask a few questions like "Where are you from?", "What is the purpose of travel?", "Why are you interested in diving?", easy questions. Explain where you're from, why you like diving, etc. The same thing works when the actual course is starting: "How do you normally study?", "What was the last course you did?", "What did you like most about that teacher?" - adapt and ask if this is how they like it. 
You can only adapt your way of teaching if you know what kind of students you have, and you are most likely to have a variety in your group. If somebody is afraid, make sure you are close to them on the surface as well. 
Don't leave them alone on the boat during the ride, be there for them and talk! The more you are teaching in their comfort zone, the faster they fly through their course - and they might even come back to you for continuing education. Treat people as they want to be treated, not they way you like it the most. I've had people from the army wanting a straight forward 'do this - do that' course without breaks or questioning. I also had many students that were actually afraid of the water, that's when talking becomes more important than diving. 
The last type of student might seem horrible, but I love it the most - because you are helping them to overcome something big. It's a great reward.

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor; The equipment room

5. Learning that every dive center organizes things differently

There are so many ways to organize a dive center and there are so many different kind of diving areas and dive center managers. 
One of the things I learned is that it is really important to ask some things before you take on a job. Ask what job is offered exactly! If you're applying to a job post, check what things you need to do. Loading and off-loading the boat, filling tanks, repairing equipment, working in the dive shop, cleaning the class room? How many days do you work every week? How many hours? What happens when you get sick? What if there are no customers? Of course you're not teaching the whole time (sorry to wake you up! :), but think about what would be the right balance for you and make sure you GET A WORK CONTRACT, insurance and the right visa! 
Once you're working somewhere ASK why things are organized that way so you know that it's something you didn't think about or something you might do differently. Give a new proposal and see how they react. "Why are you not filling all empty tanks?" - maybe it's because the compressor can't handle it, it's easier for customers to find out where to put their empty tanks, etc. You might have a great idea "Maybe it's better to make a empty tanks sign...", share it. Maybe it's adopted straight away, tried before, you didn't think of all the facts (so you learn!) or find out the dive center manager is not that great after all. 
These things happen, that's one of the reasons why it's good to change your dive center after a while. Also teaching in different (water) circumstances and environments will make you a better instructor. With one company I had to get my students ready to jump while the boat was still moving and when working for the next company this was strictly forbidden, both had reasons to organize it like this.   

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor; Scuba tanks storage

6. Teaching relatives, families or couples is a different thing

Suddenly you're in the middle of an argument between your students! You're not part of their family, not part of the couple and not the alpha male in the family, but YOU are the instructor! It's like working against a basic instinct. I've had many couples arguing, mostly the man telling the wife what to do - but that's your job in the water! You don't want to get into their fight, but you've got to get them certified! So, stay in control, remind them of what you're doing at that moment, etc. Work your way around things with the worst case scenario: Separation! Explain that you don't think this is the most effective way to finish the course, take them one by one in the pool. Don't let the partner, mom/dad or experienced uncle interfere the comfort zone of your students. Keep control while staying calm and do NOT raise your voice or turn your back to them! This can be a little mind game!

7. Learning that good customer service has great value

You can organize this by always being a few steps ahead of your student. If they get on board they probably want to drop their bag, go to the toilet, get some drinks, etc. Give a boat briefing, preferably before getting on board! The same thing works at the beginning of a day; explain the big plan of that day. Tell before they ask! Give some water, tell them where their dive equipment is, how long the ride is, etc. If you're in the swimming pool and skills take longer and longer - maybe a coffee break is a great idea. 
When you're doing theory but the tree outside is more interesting, ask related questions to the dive topic or go to the pool and finish the theory later. Ask if they are OK several times a day, as soon as you think they might not. Remember #4 (comfort zone).

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor; cold water diving

8. Being flexible is one of the most important skills

This is a very important skill in many ways. You will have a different team of students almost every time. Different languages, ages and cultures, maybe even within one team. This gives you all the opportunity to learn beautiful things about cultural differences, but again, you have to get them certified as soon as possible. Language barriers make things a lot more complicated. 
You are likely to teach many courses in English if you are working abroad. Many people can speak English, but understanding the specific words that are involved in SCUBA diving might be completely new. 
Some words that are involved in the very beginning like descending, equalizing, exhaling might not be fully understood even if your student says "YES". Let them repeat what you say, show pictures, etc. If a student needs more time for one skill, give it - but make sure you think about WHEN you make extra time. If the whole group is waiting chances are high your student feels it and goes straight out of his/her comfort zone...

9. You will learn many little tricks to keep things safe and fun

As for being flexible about teaching, you need to keep it save and fun. 
With PADI, but probably with most of the dive organizations, you can't just shift skills around and practices since they built up from easy to a more difficult level through progress. Students, dive centers and location plus the weather will probably influence your way of teaching. 

I am not going to tell you to break rules, because they are there for very important reasons, but sometimes you have to work your way around to keep things safe and fun. With high waves in confined water the pool-like conditions are not there, so you need to find another place or time even-though the resort of dive center management might disagree with you. 

Another tip is lightly holding on to somebody while doing skills (but be careful with different cultures, man to woman and children). Of course, you should always be close enough to grab your students instantly, but make sure THEY feel it - especially with mask skills. Don't hold on to clips or straps but touch their upper arm gently. It's good to ask if they are OK with that before entering the water. When you are working with a group of students and one if performing less than the others, ASK if he/she would like to go last to have a lot of examples, go first to get it over with straight after your demonstration or in the middle to have both but not the feeling of slowing down the group.

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor

10 Things you learn after becoming a SCUBA dive instructor; Marlies writing her articles

10. Paperwork will save your ass!

Since diving is still acknowledged as an extreme sport people have to 'sign their lives away'. 
The same thing counts for being an instructor, you are at risk as well. Make sure your own paperwork is  organized in the first place. 
Pay your fees to the dive organization to be in teaching status and get a professional dive insurance that covers your students as well as yourself in and around the water. It's very expensive to keep yourself in teaching status (with PADI) and insured, depending on your salary off course, but one month a year (1/12) working for fees and insurances could become an average. Just do it! If you're lucky the dive center will pay your fees or a part of it. 

Other than that, make sure everybody signs all the paperwork before you hit the water and keep the paperwork in the back office! Always make sure you have (a digital copy) of all your students paperwork yourself, email it to yourself if you're traveling a lot. 
There are too many true stories about diving instructors without permits and/or insurances ending up in debt or worse. Even though SCUBA diving is becoming safer and safer, there's always a risk and you never know what you're students do when they panic 'or just don't like you, their holiday, etc'. Be prepared for the worse and stay updated.


Five years after my IDC, with Camille Lemmens, I still wanted to learn more about teaching SCUBA diving and align my teaching skills with the latest PADI research outcomes in real life. This time I went through the IDC Staff instructor course, to become an assistant to a Course Director as a divemaster can be to an instructor. It was great fun, I learned a lot from the course itself but also from the people involved. Not only the other instructors, but also from the students (divemasters working their way up to instructor), everybody has a different background and experience in diving and if you're willing to learn from others you will grow as an instructor yourself.


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