Instructors Answer: What Makes a Good Student?

| November 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

I’ve had the privilege of training with several firearms instructors from several organizations while living in several different states.

As a student, there are things that I prefer from instructors. A lesson plan instead of “winging it,” experience in speaking to students from various backgrounds and not just LEO / military / civilian, etc.

I thought it would be interesting to turn the coin over and ask some instructors what made a good student. Here’s what they had to say. Instructor responses are sorted by their last name, alphabetically.



John Farnam

Defense Training International Instructor, Author of The Farnam Method of Defensive Handgunning and The Farnam Method of Defensive Shotgun and Rifle Shooting

“Incremental progress through diligent and perfect practice of basics”

… hardly sounds glamorous, and the concept thus has scant appeal to the shallow and self-centered, an accurate description of many, probably most, Americans.

As instructors, we need to find a way in inspire our students sufficiently to cause them to be willing to leave the familiar and comfortable alters to false gods and come with us on a perilous, frightening, and uncomfortable journey, the True Way!

Even then, both student and instructor “see through a glass, darkly.”  Few instructors have ever reached the state of “True Enlightenment.”  Who have are as miserable as ever!

The rest of us, students and instructors alike, have to have the courage and personal honestly to respectfully question the reasons for everything we do.

“‘Faith’ doesn’t make good science.  Curiosity does!”

Professor Jacob Barnhardt (played by Sam Jaffe) to “Klaatu,” (played by Michael Rennie) in the 1951 science-fiction classic, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

There are things about our Art that I, to this day, don’t understand.  There are things I’ll never understand!  Just because I don’t, maybe can’t, understand it, doesn’t mean it is not true, good, and right.  In our Art, there is a place for science, and there is a place for faith.  There is no place for smugness and vanity!

In the end, the goal of the student and the instructor is always the same: The improvement of the student.  So long as we keep that in mind, we won’t go too far astray!


Dr John Meade

Firearms and Trauma Medicine Instructor, Emergency Physician, Author of Beating the Reaper

First, let me say that I don’t think the attributes of “good student” are different in the gun world from any other aspect of life. If someone is a good student in my gun class, they are most likely the sort of person who would be considered a good student in a college history class, an emergency vehicle operator’s course, or a needlepoint class.

This good student comes to class on time, if not several minutes early. They have already reviewed the material as much as they practically can do so. They have all their needed equipment, already checked and functional. They have backups for vital gear, and are willing to share with a less prepared student. They ask intelligent questions that reveal interest, and make sure they grasp the concepts before they move forward. If the techniques or concepts being taught are different than the student’s prior experience or preferences, he is willing to give the new material an honest trial before dismissing it. He will discuss the differences in the new material with the instructor so that he can learn, but never argues with the instructor that this new method is wrong. He understands that sometimes you can do things multiple right ways, and with an open mind, he might learn an additional perspective.

In essence, the “good student” comes to class prepared to learn, eager to learn, and open to new ideas.

You will notice I never said the “good student” was the top performer in the class. He may, in fact, have mediocre skill sets. However, he is the kind of person every instructor loves to teach.

Greg Nichols

Suarez International Instructor
In two words, preparation and enthusiasm. The more prepared a student is, the faster they will feel comfortable working through the class. This includes having all the ammunition they need, are confident with the weapon they’ve chosen, bringing appropriate clothing for the weather, having water, needed equipment, as well as having some practice with the gear they are using.

Class is not the location to vet new equipment, that should be done at home. Class is where you learn new tips, drills, skill sets, and mentality that you can take home and make your own. While I can take a student from “I have only ever shot from the bench” to a shooter, mover, communicator, it’s a bit less time consuming if the student already has some concept of the action that I can fine tune.

Enthusiasm is vital in a student. You have to be excited to be there. You will absorb more information, try harder, be safer, and have more fun if you are enthusiastic about training.

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Erik Pakieser

Firearms Instructor, QSI Training

  • Know your gun & gear. You own it, you should know how it works.
  • Keep an open mind: that gun/holster/etc you are so proud of might be junk. Let’s find out.
  • Embrace failure. We don’t learn much from success. Fail magnificently!
  • On techniques, keep an open mind. Give the technique a chance before dismissing it.
  • Be willing to learn.
  • Be prepared. Sunscreen, enough ammo, water, eye/ear pro, etc.
  • It’s not a match. Focus on training from a fighting perspective.
  • Check your ego, own your mistakes, and learn from them.


Brent Yamamoto

Suarez International Instructor
I don’t care if a student is highly skilled, knowledgeable, or talented. Obviously those are great traits to have but they have nothing to do with being a good student.

A good student has an open mind, is willing to learn new things, and understands that the curriculum may challenge what they have previously learned.  A good student also has a highly developed bullshit detector…not all teachers are worth listening to!  The good student is open to learning new concepts, but never relinquishes his judgment.  Blindly accepting everything an instructor says like the word of God is not wise.  Be open, but not so open that your mind falls out.

Enthusiasm. If the student is not excited to be there, or interested in learning new material, why are they there in the first place?

A good student is like the people you enjoy in your life. I surround myself with people who are polite, respectful and genuine.  Much like the people I choose to associate with, the good student is a pleasure to be around.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

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