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"I want to become a trainer"

There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t get an email, a phone call, or get approached in person at a seminar or conference and get asked this: “How do I become a police trainer?” I start by explaining how I personally got into training (“fell into" is more accurate), then I tell them about the paths followed by some of those trainers out there that I truly admire, and finally I let them know that there isn’t one formula or career track that you can follow to reach the goal of “trainer.” Some people are just born to do it (like Dave Smith, Dave Grossman or Val VanBrocklin) and some people just stumble into it (like me) and still others work hard at a particular specialty, like ASP or TASER or cultural diversity and then work their up. However you plan to do it, here are some things to think about if you’d like to add “police trainer” to your resume and maybe even make a living at it.

Start Small

Each Street Survival seminar instructor gets asked at least once at every seminar: “How do I get hired to teach for Calibre Press?” The first question I ask is “what kind of training do you do now?” Oftentimes I get this answer: “Oh, I don’t actually do any training now but I have 5 (or 10, or 20 or 30) years on the job, I like talking in front of people and I think I’d be a really good instructor.” Teaching on a national (or international) level is a great ambition, but if you’ve never even instructed an in-service course in your own agency, you’ve got some work to do to develop yourself before you “go live.” Which brings me to…

Begin at Home

For me, one of the best places to start was the field training program. Being an FTO forced me to look at my own knowledge base, to examine how I communicated ideas to others, to study adult learning and various methods of instruction. Teaching recruits was serious business in my agency, and I wanted to be the best. In many police agencies, being a successful FTO often leads to becoming an in-service trainer, which can then lead to bigger and better opportunities outside of you own department. If you’re already an in-service trainer, add something more to your training repertoire. For example, if you’re a firearms instructor, study the physiology involved in shooting, or the mental preparation aspect of winning a gunfight. Incorporate what you learn into your lesson plans to make your in-service courses enlightening and unique.

Speak Up

In the 1980’s, I was invited to start teaching for a local police training company after attending a career survival class specifically for woman cops. The course was taught by a female psychologist and I wrote in the evaluation that while I enjoyed the course, I felt that it would be better if presented from a cop’s point of view. I kept my comments relevant, respectful, and concise, and provided some references. The instructor called me the next week and invited me to team teach the course with her next time. My training career was off and running!

Be Ethical

It’s a running joke in the police training business that we all steal ideas and concepts from each other. You can’t copy write an idea, like how you should set up your gun belt or what “warrior-ship” means to the profession, but you can copy write how it’s presented. (your PowerPoint, overheads, DVD or workbook for example). Truly successful trainers take basic ideas, like mental rehearsal or warrior values or a particular method of handcuffing and expound upon them using a combination of research, anecdotal information, and their own skills as a presenter. A good trainer should appreciate being quoted in someone else’s class, but make sure you don’t take an idea you learned in someone else’s class and then put it out there as your own. In other words, give credit where credit is due.

Learn How to Teach (IE: War Stories are NOT “Training”)

Teaching by storytelling is a wonderful method of instruction if done properly. That said, standing up before a group of peers and telling story after story of your own escapades as a cop is not training them, and it may not even be entertaining them. We’ve all got personal “war stories,” and one or two well-placed ones can really spice up a presentation, but put yourself in the students’ seat; do you want to hear hours and hours of some other guy’s war stories? Do your research, collect some videotapes and news reports and tell other’s stories and what can be learned from them. Our philosophy in the “Street Survival” seminar is to honor our fallen brothers and sisters and keep their memories alive by telling their stories and the lessons that can be learned from them.

Be Willing to Work for Free

There are countless associations out there looking for quality presenters for their conferences. For example, ILEETA (the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association) accepts proposals from members to teach at their annual conference. You won’t get paid to teach there, but you’ll get free tuition to the conference, access to some of the biggest trainers and authors in the business, and an amazing bag of cool swag to take home with you. You’ll also get exposure. A couple of years ago I kept pestering a good friend to teach at ILEETA but he did not want to work “for free.” I finally submitted the proposal myself and then when he was selected, I threatened his life if he didn’t show up to teach. He reluctantly showed up, taught a great class, and promptly got several well-paying jobs out of his four hour investment. Start locally or regionally, volunteer to conduct a workshop or do a dinner talk, and then be ready when the paid offers start coming in.

Always Be a Student

If the moment ever comes when you discover you are the best in your field, you have nothing new to learn, and there is no other trainer out there who’s classes you enjoy attending, STOP TEACHING IMMEDIATELY! The finest teachers, mentors, and practitioners are always and forever students first; they are seekers, they are curious, they never stop looking for better techniques, more accurate research, new ways to inspire themselves and others. Humility is one of the most important qualities a top-notch trainer can possess, and the most successful trainers in law enforcement will be the first to tell you just that.

Next, Sgt. Smith will continue with Part 2 of “How Do I Become a Trainer” by discussing how to stay current, flexible, and realistic as you develop your skills. She’ll talk about the importance of authoring trade articles, how to look the part, find your market, mutually mentor with another trainer, and give you tips on managing the business end of police training.

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