An Open Letter to a Future Instructor

A few weeks back, I received an inquiry about our upcoming ACA Whitewater Instructor Certification course. The prospective student asked about whether or not the course was a good fit based on current skills, experience, and level of confidence. I’ve been in three of these courses in the last two years, one being my own certification course and the other two having served as an assistant. Having a lot of time to consider what goes into this certification process, I think my response to this potential instructor candidate might serve as helpful insight for those of you contemplating moving forward with a certification to teach. 

I’m excited to hear you’re interested in the ACA Instructor course. Learning to teach is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve encountered; once you have gained the lens of instruction, every river experience changes… in my opinion, for the better!

The ACA class is tough. It’s demanding physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your skills will be put under a microscope and you’ll be challenged to rework the way you do things and the way you think about things; it may even take you back to how you were taught and leave you wondering why you learned something a certain way. The reward is a broadened perspective, a deeper understanding of skills, and the ability to recognize and assess the needs and expectations of another person and put those needs in front of your own. 

IMG_8951The course occurs over two weekends (April 29-May 1 & May 20-22) and is twofold: the Instructor Development Workshop (IDW) and the Instructor Candidate Exam (ICE). These two components are blended throughout the two weekends but essentially exist as a classroom and experience function, giving you the opportunity to gain understanding of skills and procedures and then practice, followed up by rolling assessments. You’ll be reviewed on skills such as paddle strokes, rolling (in flatwater and in combat environments), rescue, and your ability to teach and explain those skills. Certifications (Level 1 – 4) are achieved based on your demonstrative knowledge and skill, with the caveat that a ‘continuation’ may be issued if there are specific ways for you to improve a certain skill or skills in order to achieve a higher level of certification. 

Here, you can find the criteria required to achieve an L4 certification, which is the highest level you can attain in this particular course. Like I said, if an instructor candidate (IC) does not meet all of the criteria for an L4 certification, the IC can still receive a certification of a lower level, with an evaluation on what would need to be improved in order to gain that higher level of certification (Level 1Level 2Level 3). 

This class isn’t for everyone, and it’s not guaranteed that a certification is an outcome of your time spent in the course. That being said, the Instructor Trainers (ITs) I’ve worked with do an incredible job of setting you up for success by being up front about your skills and the areas where you’ll need work. Chris and Larry Ausley (the other IT for this particular course) were my ITs and did an incredible job of being clear with all the ICs on expectations and requirements to achieve certifications. Moreover, I think this class pays dividends in your own personal paddling. One of my biggest take aways from this class is that you can never be a great teacher unless you never stop being a great student; in short, I’m always self evaluating and thinking hard about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it… and considering how it might be made better. 

IMG_8944You mentioned whether you’re confident enough, and I’ll comment on that. Everything you do as a paddler will be reviewed in this class just as it will be reviewed by your students should you choose to instruct. It can be really tough to receive so much critique on skills that you thought were ‘good enough’ for your own application; I, myself, struggled with so much critical feedback during my certification course. That being said, it is a level of review of your skills that you might not receive elsewhere. Think about what it may feel like to have your paddling under a microscope during the two weekends. If you feel sensitive about being in a group setting and being evaluated on areas of improvement, it may be better to give yourself some time to come in to your own as a boater before subjecting yourself to peer review. That’s totally ok! Even the best paddlers may become frustrated by hearing so much feedback, but their success will be because of an ability to turn that feedback into opportunity for improvement.

I know that’s a lot to think about and perhaps not the answer you were expecting. If you’re up for a challenge and you’re hungry to learn, improve, and impart your love of the river to others, this is the class for you. It does not come without hard work, but I have loved each and every course I’ve been in (three, now, since I gained my certification) for the continuing knowledge and strengthening of skill I continue to experience during the course. Give it some thought and absolutely reach out via email or phone if you’ve got any more questions. 

Hope everything is great for you! I’m thrilled that you’re even considering this class, even if now doesn’t turn out to be the right time. Keep seeking! 

All the best, 

Lydia Cardinal | Managing Partner
H2o Dreams LLC | Creative, Passionate, Driven
ph: 828.749.9369

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to a Future Instructor”

  1. Who taught the teachers and are you simply involved in some sort of pyramid selling scheme? I’m genuinely interested in your answer. I expect it to be based around some sort of received wisdom / consensus argument. Personally I’m not that skilled at paddling but I’m considered a pretty good mentor in my professional life. My 12 year old son has been running whitewater since 5. He’s been running grade 4+ in a playboat since 10. We’re both self taught and while its always possible to learn new stuff why assume that result in improved performance or results. By the time my son is old enough for an ACA course who will teach him and what will they teach?

    1. Howdy Harry,

      Interesting question, but certainly one that qualifies for a thoughtful answer. Although, I am not quite sure how you mean a pyramid scheme, especially considering learning is rarely linear or even hierarchal… I do think you brought up several other points that should be elaborated on.

      Firstly, a certification is a formality. It’s a list of criteria that has been agreed upon by an organized group, usually authorities on a subject, that would be considered best practice. Why is this even necessary? Liability. How does this make someone a great teacher? It doesn’t. A great teacher is one that has mastered the art of communication. They can listen, discern, translate, and communicate effectively to a student. A mentor, to me, is someone who balances teaching and allowing the apprentice to self-discover and provides feedback based on their experience. An instructor in our class is expected to balance both of those. We can debate all day and exhaust our keyboards describing the qualitative measurements of what makes someone a great teacher/mentor.

      The ACA certification process has a quantitative and qualitative measurement process that is interpreted by the trainer. It’s different from trainer to trainer and because of this has the downside of consistency. That said, it has tremendous upside to it as well. Much like a bhikku would travel to seek wisdom from many buddhas, our current paradigm of leaving room for interpretation has created several schools of thought on river philosophy and technical approach. Your only rules in kayaking are physics and the limitations of your own personal psychology. Everything else is interpretation and people identify with that differently.

      In regards to your son, he will still have plenty to learn. Unless of course, he is wiser and more mature than some of the elders that have preceded him and therefore has deeper thought. I have seen plenty of young guys and gals show fortitude beyond their years, but where they always lack is an awareness in stepping into the role that is needed without direction. That includes accepting a lesser role when necessary. From a motor patterns perspective, you can always be more efficient and understand efficiency at a deeper level. “The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”

      The thread of conversation of “who will teach me” I do think is unfair. A good teacher knows that a student has just as much to offer as they do. Learning is a two-way street. It’s a conversation. If the conversation is unidirectional, it has become professing. Although in every class there is some professing the real learning happens when the student becomes engaged and they begin to think creatively. There will always be someone who he can learn from and I will attest that the sooner he becomes exposed to outside influence the better balance he will achieve in the long run. So many young shredders are on a burnout track because of homogenization.

      I have paddled for nearly 20 years, I am probably paddling just below peak level, but the eagerness and deepness at which I wish to learn is better than ever.

      Thanks for reaching out with a comment.

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