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Posted on April 22, 2021 by in Training

Tiffany Johnson And Aqil Qadir On The Role Of The Assistant Instructor Pt. 1


Tiffany Johnson is a gifted firearms instructor that I have known for over ten years. Originally a firearms instructor for master firearms instructor Tom Givens at the former Rangemaster Range in Memphis, Tennessee, she currently teaches basic pistol classes and NRA Instructor classes with Aqil Qadir at Citizens Safety Academy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She has earned instructor credentials from the State of Tennessee, the State of Mississippi, the National Rifle Association, and the Massad Ayoob Group. In addition, she is certified as a Rangemaster Advanced Handgun and Defensive Shotgun Instructor. Tiffany is also an attorney who practiced personal injury and civil rights law for several years before becoming a legal researcher and freelance writer. She is currently employed as Director of Litigation Support and Attorney Development at the Reaves Law Firm, PLLC in Memphis, Tennessee. She absolutely is one of the finest persons that I know.

Aqil Qadir is the founder and lead instructor of Civilian Safety Academy. He has been training civilians for over 25 years and training law enforcement for over 20 years. Aqil earned multiple instructor credentials from the State of Tennessee, New York, and North Carolina, the National Rifle Association, and the Federal Protective Services/Department of Homeland Security. In addition, he too is certified as a Rangemaster Advanced Handgun and Defensive Shotgun Instructor. Qadir describes his passion as teaching civilians how to keep themselves and their families safe.

Tiffany and Aqil taught a two-hour block of instruction titled “How to Be an Effective Assistant Instructor” at the 2021 Tactical Conference in Dallas, Texas. I attended because I am a fan of Tiffany’s and thought that it might make for a good article that I could share with other firearms trainers. I left completely convinced that I had made a great decision to attend not only for the benefit of other Firearms Trainers Association members but my own.

First and foremost, the title is slightly misleading for the simple reason that the information provided was equally useful for lead instructors, co-instructors, and range officers. In my opinion, Tiffany and Aqil under-promised and over-delivered.

Set out below are some solid takeaways from “How to Be an Effective Assistant Instructor.”

  • The first class in which a student attends will always be the most important class. It either will or will not create positive feelings, instill confidence, and make the students want to return and continue training. Done properly, the first class helps students decide what path they want to take and shows them that they can readily rise to a competent level.
  • There is a difference between those who teach and those who assist. Tiffany and Aqil described those roles as Lead Instructor, Co-Instructor, Range Safety Officer, and Coach.  There is always a distinction between the four roles, and one person can occupy only one role at a time.

  • The persons in the position of Lead Instructor and Co-Instructor will switch roles back and forth. These are distinct roles, and the Lead Instructor is the “star” whenever he or she is in that position. There is never more than one Lead Instructor at a time.

  • The role of the Assistant Instructor is to take some of the load off the Lead Instructor. Tiffany said that this person is largely responsible for keeping the class organized and running smoothly and likens it to making sausage. Everyone likes sausage but no one wants to see the sausage being made. A good Assistant Instructor always puts the students first and makes them feel welcome, comfortable, and safe. At no time should they glorify themselves, but instead focus on patching up holes before a possible pending problem becomes an actual one. The Assistant Instructor may be the first to pick up on a struggling student and may be well-served by profiling the students (identifying those who may lag behind the others) upon arrival.

  • The role of the Range Safety Officer is (to nobody’s surprise) keeping the class safe. If the person in that position spends more than a few seconds on assisting a student with technical details, then he or she is no longer performing in that role.

  • The Coach spends time focusing on technical details with individual students.  My experience has been that coaches need to remember to not hold up the entire class because the student that they are currently working with is having an issue.

  • A successful class is based upon the “Four C’s of Success.” These are Communication, Coverage, Choreography, and Content.

  • Communication: Convey information in such a manner that it cannot be misunderstood, as opposed to speaking so that it can be understood. Emphasize the positive as opposed to the negative. Assistant Instructors should avoid any tendency to over-coach. When the Lead Instructor is talking, the Assistant Instructor should be quiet. Crosstalk must be avoided. However, it is perfectly acceptable for the Assistant Instructor to ask the Lead Instructor if they may make a statement if that statement is of benefit to the overall class. When I am in the position of Co-Instructor, I never ask to insert anything unless the Lead Instructor has overlooked a teaching point, I can see that some of the students did not understand a point that he or she just made, or I am seeing multiple students on the line struggling at the same time. My business partners Allan McBee and Guy Schnitzler have done that when I was the Lead Instructor, and each time they did I believe that it was in the best interest of the class. An effective manner that Assistant Instructors can communicate is non-verbally. Aqil recommended just a simple “thumbs up” and opined that this was often worth a hundred words.  When I work the line in our classes, I will often walk past the students and pat them lightly on the shoulder and say in a low voice something like “you nailed that shot, good job.”

  • Coverage: The objective is see everything that is taking place and essentially be the “All-Seeing Eye.” Nothing occurs on the range without the knowledge of the instructor staff. Much of this has to do with tactical positioning before, during, and even after the class.

Part two of this article addresses tactical positioning of the staff, the remaining two C’s of Success, the importance of greeting students upon arrival and taking immediate control over their firearms and gear, setting up workstations for each that enhance safety, and closing the class in a manner that takes into consideration that many of the students by this time are tired and possibly accident-prone.