COVID-19 struck a blow to this country, levying losses that we cannot even begin to quantify. However, if you take an optimistic look at things you are likely to draw at least one positive outcome from this ongoing nightmare. For some it was more time at home with family; for others it was the gift of a permanent remote work position. For myself, it was new and creative ways to teach some of the millions of new gun owners that we are happy to welcome to the firearms community. Let's take a look at the top five ways that COVID-19 made me a better instructor:
1. I Came Up With New Ways To Relay Information.
No doubt you’re aware of the record number of new gun sales this year. With the need for a rapid and ultra-basic instructional program, Renaissance Firearms Instruction drafted the two-hour New Gun Owners: 101 course. This course was designed to introduce students to basic safety and function of the most popular firearm platforms, followed up by a short live-fire session of the gun that they just purchased.
Well, the first class filled in just a matter of hours, and just a few short days later nearly every local range was shut down. We turned to a Facebook Live feed and conducted the entire classroom portion from my home office. We directed everybody who was enrolled in the postponed NGO101 session to watch from home as well as anybody else who needed basic information, absolutely free of charge. During the session, we did everything that we intended to do in person (minus shooting of course) and it was so popular that Riton optics jumped in and donated an optic to give away!
Since then numerous digital forms of firearms education have popped up online and today we are left with many more options for gaining gun wisdom.
2. My Speech Became More Descriptive.
Ah yes, the dreaded social distancing. Requiring 6 feet of space between people eliminates much more than just movies and sporting events; it eliminates close quarters demonstration. Guns are built with some pretty small parts and these parts are easiest described by an “up close and personal” view of them I explain their function. Quickly we went from merely pointing to a 1911 magazine release to referring to it as “the little waffle on the left side.” In short order ,AR-15 bolts started to look like “a mushroom with a gear on it,” and pumping a shotgun forend became “playing the trombone.”
3. My Supervision Improved.
Situational awareness increases exponentially when you take even just a few steps back from the action. Six-foot distancing was still plenty close to immediately grab a muzzle and redirect it, but at the same time, it allowed me to see substantially more of the firing line at a glance. Of course, this enhances safety, but it also made me that much more aware of other shooters who might be struggling with stance or clearing a jam.
4. I Got Back To Basics.
While a great deal of satisfaction comes from hearing that a student won a match or passed their semi-annual pistol qualification, there might not be anything more satisfying than seeing that smile on a new shooter’s face when they successfully hit their first target. Working with more than 1,000 newbies in the past three months alone (I’m tired) reminded me that the greatest reward comes from the simplest instruction. Breath control, trigger squeeze, follow-through…all of these topics came up in spades this year and I got to exercise some stiff muscles again.
5. I Let Students Explore More On Their Own.
“I’ll stop you if you are about to do something dangerous” is a phrase that I frequently tout as I let a student figure out how to clear their first malfunction or fill their first magazine. All the demonstrations in the world can’t replace just a few minutes of actual handling. Not being able to safely touch students' gear reminded me that sometimes the best instruction is to do nothing at all. The key here is to stay close enough to intervene, but not so close that you are putting pressure on them. Oddly, 6 feet seemed to be optimal.
If you are one of the thousands who have started teaching this year, welcome to the most rewarding career in the firearms industry. For my friends who are simply teaching a friend or loved one how to shoot, I encourage you to think upon these words and hope they become a piece of the road map that makes you a better mentor. Among all, stay positive and try to find the bright side of things. Where some see spent cases, others see fresh brass to reload.