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Designated lefty for the day in a class full of righties.

Yet again, I’m forced to face a bias. This bias comes in the form of a great friendship with a mentor and instructor I have followed and admired for years. That is the lens through which I stare at my screen as my fingers fly over the keys. I want to paint a word-picture of the Cornered Cat Instructor Development class as lovely as the lady who taught it.

But that’s not fair–not to myself, not to its instructor, Kathy Jackson, nor to my readers.

Again, I find myself setting aside my biases and looking at my twenty-six pages of notes and eighty-three page handout for the four-day instructor development class I attended in June through a microscope of application and validity to its intended audience, aspiring and passionate instructors. I also find it difficult to pull out what I knew of the class before I attended it and hold it in honest relief against what was actually presented in the class.

Attendees

No matter how unbiased I try to be, however, I cannot remove one of the most important factors about attending this particular class: the students.

Bluntly put, this was one of the best group of students of any class I’ve ever been privileged to attend–not necessarily in quantity but quality. In attendance were some of my long-time friends, idols, authors, competition shooters, writers, gun reviewers, instructors and favorite thinkers out there. I could have paid for a week just to spend time around a camp fire talking with them and felt fulfilled, educated and humbled to be among them.

Kathy did a masterful job putting us together, stirring the pot and watching us work our collective intellect to better solutions for any number of questions and issues we have all encountered as instructors. Of particular interest to all of us was the furthering of the community and the changing scene that is firearms instruction and its clientele.

Goals

There are not many firearms instructor development programs out there for civilians. Outside of the NRA, Rangemaster, I.C.E., Suarez International and the SIG Academy, Kathy is one of the only instructor development programs I am aware of for non-law enforcement or military and open to the general public without limiting the participants to only teach her program. There may be more out there and I suspect that number may grow as the demand for quality instructors increases.

Having already attended the NRA’s instructor program as well as Rangemaster’s they provided my only frame of reference for an instructor development class and I was eager to see what new information I might glean regarding running a safe and effective range, building a curriculum and managing students.

Classroom Introduction

DSC_0303If you’ve ever met Kathy you know she likes to make points with stories and she does it very effectively. As she introduced the class she talked about walking through an airport while it was under construction and being able to see behind the sheetrock in a terminal to all the duct work, the wiring, the cables and complexity that made something so complex look so smooth and simple. She compared that image to a good firearms class. Students go through the class seeing the polished surface of what they need to see to get the information and move from point A to point B, but they don’t see all of the work behind the scenes. Kathy promised to rip the sheetrock off of what it took to run an efficient class.

The Class

Here is where I would start breaking the review down into days but I don’t think that’s necessary as the days are likely to change and the information evolve.

We had a schedule of sorts. As a Monday through Thursday class it was packed with information. We split the days up working half in the classroom and half on the range for a majority of the class and it worked well to keep us focused and learning.

In the classroom we discussed issues regarding adult learning principles, different styles of presenting, the different types of mindsets of those who go into skill-based classes like firearms, how learning styles differ from men to women and the concepts of classroom and range management. We even had an extensive show and tell about pretty much all of the holster options available, how they are worn, their pros and their cons.

One of our requirements as students was to come prepared to talk about a topic of our choosing. Even though some students came prepared to give lectures as though they were teaching beginner students, many of the students came prepared to talk to us as fellow instructors and talked about things relevant to our trade. Topics ranged from giving a safety brief to fitting a handgun to a hand, rehabilitating an overused shooting arm, handling a media storm, the history of modern firearms, equality biases and how to run a proper debrief.

The classroom cadre didn’t end there, however. We also had Marty Hayes guest instruct on instructor liability, Rory Miller lecture on how to run proper force on force and Don Stahlnecker give a talk on the role and responsibility of the assistant instructor (which I’ve determined could be a course in and of itself).

In addition to all of this fine lecture was the discussion time. Kathy would throw out a topic or question for open floor discussion. We handled topics like what makes someone qualified to instruct, sexism, political correctness and how to handle problem students.

To add to all of that, we had reading homework in the evenings that covered topics like stages of growth, handling injuries in class, safety considerations, range commands, building course outlines, diagnostic coaching, special needs students and handling special groups of students. We’d be given the opportunity to discuss the homework the next morning but between the late night socializing we collectively agreed that much homework reading didn’t get done though I’m proud to say I actually did read every word of the handout… eventually.

On The Range

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Experience working with people much taller than myself.

This was not a class to develop the shooting skills of the participants. The range sessions were designed specifically to show us, as a group and individually, how to run a line. While others shot Kathy would pull one of us off the line and have us call range commands or show us places on the range where you can see certain functions more clearly and keep eyes on certain students. We were encouraged to check out the different guns, holsters and shooting styles of the other students and ask questions and even get familiar with their firearms, particularly if there was a firearm that we weren’t familiar with. We were treated like complete novice shooters, not to insult us but to show us how to set up a beginner range to eliminate safety issues.

I particularly liked Kathy’s explanation of the history of shooting grips and some of the common drills instructors can use to diagnose shooter errors.

The final drill we all loved to hate and hated to love is what Kathy dubbed, “The Firing Line From Hell.”

With dummy guns, those on the lines were told to pick a number between 1 and 10, at that interval, during the drills they were instructed to make a firearms mistake. That could be anything from keeping the finger on the trigger to a poor grip to dropping a gun. One participant was lead instructor and had two assistants. The lead instructor was to call the range commands and keep a watch over the range and run the range.The assistants’ jobs were to both see and correct the issues before they became unsafe or correct and manage as well as communicate with the lead instructor if need be. We each rotated through the drill as an assistant and as a lead instructor.

It was stressful and it was enlightening. We talked about when to kick people off the firing line and out of classes, how to handle repeat offenders of lesser infractions and what and how to communicate between assistants and the lead instructor as well as keep a watchful eye on the line. We also learned to be choosy with our words and not set our students up for stupid behavior based upon something we said or the way we said it or demonstrated it.

Kathy Jackson

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Kathy Jackson

Simply put, Kathy is a fabulous instructor. She designed an enormous class and brought in a cherry picked group of instructors to critique her on her very first attempt at such a monumental undertaking. If that weren’t intimidating enough, she didn’t pick an easy group. While I wouldn’t call any one of us difficult students we were opinionated, chatty, sometimes a little distracted and many of us set in our ways. She managed us well and only showed a slight chink in her armor on day three that those who may not have known her well probably wouldn’t have seen.

For the most part she appeared confident, collected, organized and efficient. She didn’t shy away from hard questions, was firm when she needed to be but also ready to explain and neither cocky nor harsh in her criticisms of method or style. Simply put, the woman can run a firearms class.

Above all, she was attentive to each and every one of her students. Like a devious, but cool, puppet-master she orchestrated events to single out fears, struggles, stumbling blocks and inexperience. At the same time she was not malicious about it. Throughout the week she would suddenly call out a name and say, “I want to talk to you.”

On one particular moment, after lecturing on grip and knowing it was a sore spot for me she asked me to hang back on my way to the range and asked me if she’d explained things well enough for me to understand and wanted to apologize if I felt like she were picking on me. Though frustrated I had not felt that way, but I greatly appreciated her being mindful of the fact that it was a sore topic for me. It showed a great level of personal care to all of us which made the experience that much more personal.

Personal Take-Aways

I need an assistant. Badly!

That’s pretty much one of the first things I gleaned from the class. Having someone on the range that you can trust and who knows how to work with you, communicate with you or take over for you if something happens is invaluable.

I greatly appreciated seeing some of the other wearable holsters in action as well the information on building a curriculum. The block on instructor liability was hugely helpful as was all of the discussion on how to handle some of the dynamics of different student groups you might be called upon to instruct.

Above all, however, was probably the connections: the people I got the spend the week with who helped me grow, encouraged discussion, made me laugh, instructed and worked along side me for the collective goal of being the best instructors we can be.

Improvements

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One of the best assistant instructors I’ve ever seen.

Being the first class there are always going to be kinks that need to be worked out from schedule to the way certain information is presented. Kathy gave us new homework at the end of each day. We collectively agreed it would have been better to give it all to us and just give us required reading sections so that we could read ahead if we had time. She agreed and I suspect that will be something she will change in the future.

Other than that, my only complaint was the lack of running water which is completely out of Kathy’s control. The facility was air conditioned, clean and neat and I was even provided my own room with electricity to pump but through all that there was no running water to wash my hands or rinse out the coffee creamer that exploded in my pocket at the beginning of day 3. So, me sitting in the port-a-potty, rinsing my pants out in the urinal with bottled water was a thing.

If I’m resorting to making such petty complaints that ought to tell you right there that the course was solidly put together and worth the time and effort of anyone interested in instructing to go forth and attend it.

Conclusion

The Cornered Cat Instructor Development Course is only one of three instructor courses I’ve attended with far more information on actually running a range than either of the other classes. This was a nuts and bolts class that did exactly what Kathy hoped it would do. It pulled off the sheetrock and allowed us all to poke our heads behind the scenes to see what it took to build, run and manage a firearms course.

If you’re looking to push yourself as a shooter, this won’t be the class for you, but if you’re looking to build your own curriculum, run it safely and effectively while minimizing risks to yourself and your students, this is a class you should take.

Special thanks to Tamara Keel for the photos.