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Teaching in Toronto

Peter and I love doing what we do at the Toronto Scuba Centre.  We have divemasters and instructors here with us who also love doing what we do.  Teaching scuba, helping students master new dive skills, helping people get past their fears and fostering a love of scuba diving in countless people continually thrills us. But why does the TSC family love teaching in the middle of a city in a northern climate as opposed to some tropical, lush paradise?

(courtesy Lily Lemontree)

Ok, let’s be honest.  There are clearly two major reasons why teaching scuba in a location like Toronto (or Minnesota, or Winnipeg, or anywhere else that’s chilly in the winter) can be harder than in some idyllic tropical setting.

First of all, the obvious answer is that we don’t teach in some idyllic tropical setting, so the location is a clear hurdle we have to overcome.

(Courtesy tacosntonic and urbantoronto)

In fact, a huge number of instructors/divemasters live and teach in exactly those lovely locations (Thailand, Mexico, Roatan, Bermuda, Malaysia, the Maldives, the Caymans … the list is endless).  We have countless contacts all over the world, because when we want to go diving personally, we also choose somewhere gorgeous to get away to.

But, perhaps this is one of the key motivations why people take courses here with us.  I’ve previously discussed why learning to dive in Toronto is an excellent way to prepare yourself for diving around the world (if you can dive here, you can dive almost anywhere).  Another major reason for learning here, as opposed to on holiday is because when you get to the lush tropical setting, you want to be relaxing and diving and drinking in the ambience.  You don’t want to be wasting your time taking a course that will keep you from your holiday.

Let me mention as well that although Peter and I love diving tropical waters, that’s not to say that the diving in and around Ontario isn’t exciting to us too.  We LOVE our annual trips up to Brockville.

(courtesy DiveLogin)

We’d be hard-pressed, however, to deny the advantages of diving in a beautiful location with an abundance of fantastic marine life.

(Courtesy Jarwadisusilo)

The other reason, however, why Toronto can be a tougher environment to teach in, as opposed to a tropical bliss, is because of the mindset of the students attending the courses.

I’ll start by explaining this conversely: having trained people on the tropical island of Koh Tao, Thailand and having dived in a ton of tropical locations, I have had the opportunity to observe myriad teaching styles, divemaster/instructor mannerisms and the way dive operations run generally.  It’s impossible to globally characterize all dive shops, dive instructors and students, but what I have noticed is that tropical locations tend to engender a more laid-back approach and less of a “business” feel then what is more often encountered in cooler climates.

Instructors worldwide are by and large professional, but when the pace of life, the localized attitude to work and play and simply the natural development of the dive day in a tropical location are taken into consideration, things usually just seem more easy-going abroad.

I suspect that courses simply run differently abroad as well because the students buy into that philosophy while they are away from home.  Ordinarily, a holiday is in a foreign country or at least a foreign element.  Taking people out of their usual working life and placing them in a holiday environment sets a different pace, otherwise why take the time to leave your home?  Removing a manic time-table, everyday work/life/home stresses, traffic, time constraints, etc., suddenly mellows people out, leaving them open to new experiences.

Toronto, on the other hand, is a busy city with busy people.  People have a lot on the go, all of the time.  As a result, a large number of our students are not really separated and away from their everyday lives when they attend our courses.  Instead, they try to fit the course into their hectic schedules.  Again, it is a clear advantage to doing this, because then it means you don’t have to deal with getting trained or letting a course cut into your down time on holiday.

With so many distractions, however, we routinely see a number of common responses in our student body: last minute cramming of the materials before they attend the course; sometimes an entire lack of reading and/or watching all of the material in advance of the course; hangovers (although this is probably equally common on vacation); tiredness generally; lack of attention; use of handheld devices; and, …. well, you get the point.

But this level of distraction, in and of itself, is a large part of the challenge that Peter, our dive crew and I enjoy facing.  We still get people to enjoy the course, despite the lack of being on holiday or  being in a tropical atmosphere.  And with that enjoyment and through our enthusiasm, we work hard at producing some fantastic divers, even if they are brand new to the game.

Beyond being distracted, the expectations that students bring to the course also have an impact.  As I mentioned, the majority of dive instructors worldwide clearly strive to maintain the highest levels of professionalism.  Yet, I’ve observed that students expect a higher level of professional courtesy and overall customer service here in Toronto than they might in a more laid-back environment.  If an instructor asked a bunch of students to jump into the back of a dodgy looking pick-up in Thailand, most of them wouldn’t think twice about it.  Yet, I know if we asked them to do the same here in Toronto, a good number would be thinking about the quality of the company that asks them to jump in such a decrepit pile of junk.  As a result, even small slips in customer service carry far more weight in Toronto than they might elsewhere.  It definitely keeps Peter and myself on our feet, particularly as we strive to maintain our own motto “we take that extra step”.

We take that extra step

And we don’t just pay lip-service to that sentiment.  One of the things that is obviously satisfying to an instructor, or a teacher of anything for that matter, is to hear praise for the job well done.  I’m not using this blog to self-congratulate ourselves (we stand by our record instead), but we see the evidence of our passion and our teaching and our philosophy in the emails we receive from our students, the referrals that come to us on the recommendation of former students and from communications from dive operators around the world complimenting us on providing well-trained divers.

Peter and I also personally derive a lot of pleasure from helping individuals facing unique challenges become successful and safe Open Water divers.  That too melds well with our whole business philosophy of going that little further and making diving as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.

In the last few years, Peter and I have now helped many people overcome particular difficulties in their diving progress.  Sometimes it is as simple as helping someone get past a particular fear; such as claustrophobia; a fear of deep water; the “Jaws” effect, where they have a fear of marine life; and so on (although I don’t say that too lightly, as both working with people on the problem, as well as the accomplishment that they have achieved in reaching that goal is worthy in and of itself).

(Courtesy Sharkwallpapers)

Occasionally, however, the issues a potential diver may face goes way beyond a fear that can be broken down.  Sometimes we have had to assist divers who have issues due to language barriers, cultural differences, learning disabilities or restrictions due to their more advanced age.  In fact, I can recall an instance last year where one of our students had all of those issues and needed to attend four Open Water pool sessions as a result.  To their absolute credit, they wouldn’t give up and we wouldn’t let them either.  At the end of their fourth pool session, we were all so proud when they finally “got” it.

Similarly, Peter has also felt incredible after he helped a gentleman with Parkinson’s Disease not only complete his Open Water Diver course, but also a Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty afterwards.

(Courtesy SportDiver UK)

Another good example of a challenge that we faced was teaching a great young man with autism.  In case you are not aware, autism commonly has an effect on social and communication skills.  Changing the way we taught the course was the critical component in satisfying the young man’s comfort factor and putting him in a position to easily complete the course requirements.

Obviously, these issues can equally arise anywhere.  What is likely a key factor, however, is that I think that people who want to learn to dive, but who might have complicating factors are more likely to face those hurdles in an environment that gives them both adequate time to do it and their home support structure.  This is why we often face some unique challenges here that I think are likely less prevalent elsewhere.

Part of the satisfaction we gain from teaching here is helping people overcome the many different obstacles that they face, by giving them the time they need and by creatively working with them to make it possible.  We strongly believe that scuba is not an elitist sport or one exclusive to only the most dedicated divers.  It is and should be a sport open to as many people as possible.  By teaching in a location not traditionally conducive to everyday diving and working with a host of factors that could be seen to impede people’s access to learning how to dive, we get to face new challenges all the time.  It’s what makes teaching here such a thrill.

I guess my point in this blog is that while most of us train and learn how to scuba dive so that we can travel to exotic and spectacular locations, learning to dive in a less-than-exotic locale, along with its challenges and tribulations is still an incredibly rewarding experience in and of itself.