Phil Geng

Researcher, Climber, Mountaineer


It's OK - I'm an instructor

As with any industry ours has its fair share of black sheep. While most instructors are eager to learn and accept that life is an ongoing training and assessment, others seem to think that a certificate of attendance is all that is required to preach to others. Especially those instructors who are not actively using their qualifications are likely to fall into this trap. Their telltale phrase: "It's OK - I'm an instructor!".

If you have ever worked in the outdoor industry or spent any amount of time in climbing centers and popular outdoor locations you will have undoubtedly come accross this dreaded phrase. "It's OK - I'm an instructor!" or indeed any of it's many variations usually produces a rage within me that otherwise never sees the light of day. Not only is the phrase patronising and condescending before we even dissect it, it also implies that the opinion of the person who the phrase is directed at is inferior to that of the individual.

Don't get me wrong I am not suggesting we never tell people that we are instructors, there are plenty of occasions where telling others is perfectly acceptable. However, in these situations you usually provide some background.

  • "It's OK - I'm an instructor and I will get you off this hill safely."
  • "It's OK - I'm an instructor and can teach you how to belay."
  • "It's OK - I'm an instructor and not planning on weighting this dodgy setup, but merely playing around with options."
  • "It's OK - I'm an instructor and will stay with you until help arrives."

On the other hand using the phrase and indeed excuse that you are an instructor as a response to criticism or negative comments is highly inappropriate. We are all human and make mistakes and let bad habits creep into our routine. Fairly recently a close friend of mine witnessed a lead belayer dropping the dead rope from a Gri-Gri (as per manufacturer advice not something you should do), opening the leaver (most definitely not something you should do) and paying out rope fast with the other hand. To those of you who don't understand the scene, the belayer had completely given up control of the climber and was introducing more rope into the system without the breaking mechanism of the belay device being "armed". I will not start a discussion as to how dangerous this situation is in itself, but will back up my friend who called out the belayer and made them aware of the potential dangers - after all he was the duty instructor at the time. The belayer's response "It's OK - I'm an instructor!".

As instructors we are reminded time and time again that learning is a life-long activity and that despite all our qualifications and experience every day is a learning day. I have had heated arguments surrounding anchor equalisation and belay stance on Stanage, but at all times ensured I learn as much as I preach. After all, we all have different experiences that are worth sharing and discussing and in most cases there is no black and white, but merely a lot of shades of grey. This all ties in with another one of my pet peeves "Best Practice", which again demonstrates arrogance, elitism and a gross misunderstanding of how individuals and indeed the industry as a whole operate and work.

Using your instructor status as an excuse for bad or misinformed practice is terrible. It gives all of us instructors a bad name and fosters an "us and them" relationship we should aim to discourage and break down. Granted I'd rather enjoy my motorway services meal in peace after a whole weekend of working than get engaged in another Q&A session with the group that happened to stop in the same services. However, this has nothing to do with me being an instructor - I just like my peace when eating. If any of those groups met me on the crags or hills in future I'd see them as fellow outdoor people in the same way as they should see me. Not my former clients and the instructor, but a bunch of people enjoying the outdoors.

So next time somebody explains their (likely bad or negative) actions with "It's OK - I'm an instructor!" without adding further explanation or discussion do take the time to ask them for their actual qualifications, last CPD and the latest developments and advice surrounding the particular niggle you have with them. I can ensure you at least one of you is going to learn something that day and I'm willing to bet it is going to be them.

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Categories: Opinion

Tags: Outdoor Industry, Climbing, Opinion, Instructing

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