Perhaps the number one attribute that a field guide trainer must have is passion. Passion for the bush and a passion to share their knowledge with like-minded individuals. The bush is the most inspiring classroom in the world. In most schools, the walls are dotted with diagrams and posters of the topics being covered, but out here, there are no walls. The bush is our classroom and there is no better way to learn than to be immersed in an environment that inspires you. The amount of knowledge that training providers pass on to hopeful guides is huge and thus the way in which it is taught and explained is vitally important. A guide’s job is to inspire his or her guests, and it is exactly the same for trainers. If you yourself are not passionate, how can you expect that passion to be passed on to your students…!?
Knowledge (and the search for it…)
Whilst knowledge is not the be all and end all of being a field guide trainer, a sufficient depth of knowledge is vital. Enthusiastic students fire question after question at you, day in and day out and not much enjoyment can be gleaned from having to say ‘I don’t know’ too often! However, the quest for knowledge is what drives the industry and to be pushed by students is a great help to our own exploration of the natural world! Perhaps as opposed to factual knowledge, the most important aspect is an understanding and appreciation of how all the knowledge gained over the years fits together. Field guiding has always been about linking and thus to be able to unravel the tapestry of nature and identify its individual strands is key in understanding it. I have always believed that if a field guide does not see something new every day, they were simply not looking hard enough!!
Whilst a sound knowledge base is undoubtedly important, there is no substitute for experience. What one must remember is that all too often, nature does not read the textbook. Almost on a daily basis a field guide sees things that contradict the manuals and it is this mental database that can prove invaluable to guests and students alike. Factual knowledge can be learnt from a book but experience can only be gained with time. A good field guide is a storyteller and whilst the knowledge is of course interesting, students love to listen to a good yarn about a unique event that was witnessed in person and not just information being regurgitated from a textbook. Personal experience is what connects us with nature and is thus what every student should strive for in their careers!
Anyone guide thinking about going into training industry in order to get away from the long hours and pressures of a guest related environment should think again. Certainly the pressures are different but they are not less… I am confident in saying that all field guide trainers are dedicated to their job. If they were not, they would not be in this industry long. By dedication I mean going the extra mile; doing what is often deemed unnecessary. Schedules are often jam-packed with activities but on a weekly basis trainers go above and beyond the call of duty and give up their spare time to help students with their studies. A good trainer is one that does what is not expected of them in order to get the best possible result for their students. We are all here for the same reason and there is nothing more satisfying than watching new recruits blossom into amazing field guides. Be it through sacrificing weekends to do extra shooting practice or giving up time on an off week to help people with bird calls, the upshot is the same. It is all about personal dedication to the student, the industry and companies we represent.
Being a teacher can be frustrating. Concepts that seem relatively simple to us may be completely alien to others. Whether this be through language proficiency, cultural difference or prior education level a good trainer must remember that everyone is unique. It is our differences that make us who we are and it is therefore no surprise that we all learn in different ways. We have all been students at one time in our lives and I think we would all agree that having a mentor or teacher become frustrated with your lack of understanding is horrible. In fact it is detrimental to any progress being made! (I still, after nearly 40 years cannot do long division!! We all have our Achilles Heel!) It is thus imperative for any teacher to be able to think outside the box and try different methods of facilitation until the correct one for that person is found. It is about being patient. I think I speak for all my trainers that when a dedicated student performs poorly, we feel bad because perhaps we did not explain the subject matter in a way that was understood!
There are of course many other attributes that make a good field guide trainer but ultimately they are all interlinked. It is similar to nature – too much or not enough of one of these attributes leads to an imbalance and order is lost. What I can say with absolute certainty is that we go through every course with our students, feeling their successes and failures as if they were our own. It is what drives us to be better trainers. There is no better feeling than to watch someone succeed in an area that they feel passionate about thanks in some way to your involvement!
Blog by Head Trainer, Ben Coley