Teaching ability is, of course, a lot harder to measure objectively than skiing ability. There are certain hard skills, and certain fields of knowledge, that we can certainly test. But that mixture of charisma, caring, knowledge, skill, experience, insight, timing, creativity, art, and science that make great instructors great is pretty hard to put a number on.
That doesn't mean PSIA hasn't tried, very hard, contrary to some opinions. I can tell you that I failed the Full Certification exam myself--twice--both times on teaching, while passing the skiing every time. (These days, once you pass one segment, you don't have to retake it. But when I was getting certified, a fail anywhere meant you had to retake the entire exam--ugh!)
There is an even bigger push these days, in PSIA, to focus equally on the teaching, along with some new tools to help us evaluate teaching skills. In my division (Rocky Mountain), as Rick H notes, we have incorporated a new teaching model called "Guest Centered Teaching" (this is a trademark). Developed over several seasons, primarily at the Winter Park ski school under the leadership of Kim Peterson, Jim Shaw, Jen Metz, and others on their training staff, the GCT model represents a clean and simple system for both developing an effective lesson, and for evaluating a lesson plan. Kim et al would be the first to affirm that the model is nothing new--based primarily on what the most effective instructors have always done, as well as current state-of-the-art education theory.
Essentially, the GCT model starts with the obvious: if an instructor effectively addresses the needs and desires of the student, the lesson can't fail; if he/she fails to meet those needs, the lesson cannot succeed. Clearly, before we can address a need, we must first identify it. So the model recognizes two fundamental instructor activities, that go on throughout a lesson: identifying needs, and addressing needs.
Contemporary education theory identifies three categories of needs in education: cognitive needs, affective needs, and psychomotor needs (the "CAP" model). Accordingly, the Guest Centered Teaching Model, using more accessible terminology, recognizes Motivational needs (affective), Understanding needs (cognitive), and Movement needs (psychomotor).
We represent this concept with a simple grid, with three boxes representing needs that must be identified, and three more for the activities that address those needs.
In the Rocky Mountain Division of PSIA, as of this past season, we have made extensive use of this grid in our clinics and even in our exams. The Teaching exam score sheet is very simply the 6-boxed grid. We score candidates from 1-10 in each box. It is very easy to hold them accountable for identifying all relevant needs and motivations, and then to see that they address all those needs.
In my opinion--and I did about 10 exams this season--the result has been a huge improvement in our ability to examine teaching skills, consistently, and reasonably objectively. Instructors watch a short video of skiers, complete with brief interviews to give some insights into their personalities, motivations, learning styles, understanding (and misunderstanding), as well as a few minutes of skiing.
Successful instructors demonstrate their skills and insights not only in listening and observing, but in describing what other questions they would ask, and what additional observations they would need to make. They make assumptions, and describe how they would verify those assumptions. And they describe and demonstrate a lesson plan that addresses the needs they've identified, clearly drawing relevance between what they're doing, how they're doing it, and the specific needs and desires of the student.
In all, the GCT model is a great tool to help plan lessons, and a great tool for evaluating them. We still examine primarily for the "hard skills" of teaching--the knowledge and understanding of what to do and how to do it. "Soft skills"--personality, charisma, and ability to connect with individual students--is something that we may never be able to measure objectively. How could we? And SHOULD we? It is the same in most fields, including education. Teachers, doctors, and plumbers become certified when they demonstrate the requisite level of knowledge and skill. That certificate has little bearing on whether or not you'll like them!
We can provide training and feedback for the other things, but I'm not sure it's possible--or even appropriate--to base an exam on them. Ski schools can hire or not based simply on whether they "like" an instructor. But obviously, we can't determine a pass/fail in an exam on this criteria!
We'll work on a "Master Teacher" accreditation program in the Rocky Mountain division this summer. PSIA-East has a similar program that, I believe, has been quite successful. It will provide more opportunities to grow as teachers, separate from the technical and athletic side of skiing.
PSIA's new manuals include the "Core Concepts" manual that deals exclusively--and exhaustively--with the science and art of teaching, not specific to any snowsport discipline (alpine/nordic skiing, snowboarding, adaptive, etc). Discipline-specific technical manuals are separate, but the Core Concepts manual is...the CORE!
So I think we are making excellent progress in the areas we need. It is a non-ending process, of course, and it will never be perfect. But it is damned good!
The biggest problem yet to be solved is not in the opportunities that are out there for training and certifying, but in getting instructors to take advantage of these opportunities! That we offer great programs and tools does not imply that all--or even a small fraction of--instructors have been exposed to them. Instructors at most ski schools need not be certified, trained by, or even members of, PSIA to teach lessons. And requirements for remaining current, once certified, lag woefully behind the evolution of what is involved in BECOMING certified. The other thread has discussed our efforts to rectify this problem at the high end. Now we must address it across the profession, at all levels.
Only when a certification pin becomes a truly reliable indicator of an instructor's training, skill, and cutting-edge knowledge and technique, will it carry the marketing potential we all want!
One solution that I think would help is for certification to remain permanent, as it is now. But for the pin to bear the year of the most recent update/reverification event attended! That way, the pin states not only that you once demonstrated a certain level of skill, but that those skills are current and contemporary as of at least the year on the pin.