The value of being an Air Force instructor

  • Published
  • By Capt. Mike Skarda
  • Squadron Office School Flight commander
If there is something that the last three years of instructor duty have taught me, it's that teaching people new things is not as easy as it looks. Being an instructor can be a tough job and oftentimes frustrating. But I've also learned that being an instructor is an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling role, which is why I believe instructor duty should be a part of any successful career.
Whether this means becoming an instructor pilot who trains fellow pilots, volunteering for instructor duty at your career field's technical school, or becoming a military training instructor to
prepare the next wave of Airmen, instructor duty is something we should all consider at some point in our careers. Why?

First, instructor duty is inherently connected to leadership. Gen. W. L. Creech once said that "the first duty of a leader is to grow more leaders." Before all else, we need to make sure that there are people behind us and around us who are prepared to do what we do. And no other job in the Air Force institutionalizes this concept more than instructor duty. In this role, it is the instructor's job to improve and promote the skills of those under their charge so that one day their students can be as good, if not better, than the instructor at their craft.

The idea of developing Airmen as a tenet of leadership leads me to my second point. In a society where careerism and self-interest can distort the essence of what it means to be in "the service," instructor duty proves to be an unabashedly selfless job. Instructors give a great deal of their personal time and energy toward the development of their student, often at the sacrifice of their own needs.

At some point, most instructor jobs will require long hours and additional training to build the capabilities of students. Sure, this can be frustrating at times, and sure, the instructor may begin to question why he even chose to do the job in the first place, but that's the point. Instructor duty isn't about the instructor. It's about the student.

Becoming an instructor forces us to take the focus away from ourselves and instead focus on someone else. What could be more selfless than that? That's not to say that being an instructor is all pain and no gain. To the contrary, instructor duty is also just as much about you and your development. Speaking from three years of instructor experience, you will never learn more about any particular subject than when you have the opportunity to teach it to someone else.

At Squadron Officer School, where the subject of leadership serves as the central theme of everything we do, I have learned more about leadership here than at any other point in my life. The same is undoubtedly true for instructors at Airman Leadership School, NCO Academy or Senior NCO Academy. At Air Force tech schools, instructors learn more about the skill sets of their particular career field than they ever knew before.

At weapons schools, instructors are constantly improving themselves as they relentlessly train and evaluate their students. The point is, whatever the school or program, if you want to master some subject or skill set, go teach it. But that word, "teach," immediately conjures up that tired maxim, "Those who can't do, teach." While I of course disagree with this statement, it wouldn't exist if it didn't resonate with at least some people.

Unfortunately, too many people have had bad experiences with instructors who either didn't care about what they were teaching, didn't know about what they were teaching, or who were simply too long removed from their subject to be relevant.
To combat this "those who can't do, teach" stereotype, we need to continue to get the most capable Airmen into instructor positions. This idea is clearly a priority of the Air Force, as evidenced by a memo from General Norton A. Schwartz, former chief of staff of the Air Force, to all Airmen dated  March  8, 2012 in which he wrote, "We must capitalize on the expertise and leadership of our very best Airmen by placing them in critical training and education roles across the Air Force ... Our instructors must bring operational experience to training and education to be credible role models for our airmen."

To heed the CSAF's words, we need the best among us to step up and instruct. You earned a fire-wall 5 EPR and a STEP to staff sergeant? Great, now turn around and raise up the next generation behind you. You just got a Bronze Star for some amazing actions down range? Awesome, now use that to build credibility as an instructor with your students. We need sharp Airmen to step up and take on the immense responsibility of becoming an instructor.

The Airmen behind us are craving leadership, and all those successes we've had are much more meaningful if they are used to help develop the Airmen around us. In the end, we only get one Air Force career, and it is up to us to spend it wisely. Being a good instructor is by no means an easy job, but it is one of the most rewarding you will likely find in today's Air Force.
Instructor duty can refresh that sense of "service before self" that can sometimes become lost in the grind of our routine jobs. It will force you to learn more about your craft that you ever knew before.

And perhaps most importantly, it fulfills a duty we all have in raising up the next generation of Airmen.