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It's not like anyone really plans to become an archery instructor, or at least, I didn't. It more just fell into my lap when I was training to be a camp counselor, and happened to be the best during our archery instructor training (thanks to USA Archery, but more on them later). So, after being surprised into being the archery instructor, I got another surprise. We teach to a camp of all Autistic children, as well as multiple other camps, which meant I had to have multiple sets of equipment to keep track of, and be prepared for, setting up multiple ranges at each camp.
Now don't get me wrong, I was surprised by having to teach archery to the Autistic camp. However, I believe that children with special needs can do anything they set their mind to, but I also won't lie that giving them weapons scared me a little bit. I had no training in special needs care, or any idea how best to approach teaching the campers. It was only my first year as an archery instructor! I barely knew how to set up the range, let alone actually teach these classes.
So, what do you do when you have no idea what to do? Check Google!
I found numerous, extremely helpful sites that offered information on setting up a range, equipment care, class planning, games, and so many other things that I had barely even thought about. I'd have been lost that first year without my daily Google searches. And I do mean daily.
Turns out though that kids love archery! Who could've guessed that kids liked being able to use a weapon. I was out of ideas after my first week of classes, and spent the whole next weekend frantically searching for more ideas.
Once I met each of my classes, I also had to tweak them based on the needs of each group of students. Some didn't like the whistle used for lane changes, so during the class, I had to use vocal instructions. Some didn't like using the arm guards, and some did, so I had to know which classes to bring them to, and which classes to leave them in the equipment shed. Some students didn't like the competition of games, while others did, so I needed to have other activities planned that didn't involve competition. Some classes were larger and more disruptive, thus needing more attention, and allowing fewer turns per class. Others were well-behaved, and were allowed more turns per class when listening to directions.
It all depended on the class, and I found in the end, that while I may have had to adjust more for the Autistic classes, they were also the most rewarding, and grateful when they were able to achieve the tasks I had set out for them. From being able to hit the target the first few weeks, until the last week of camp when I had them try to hit specific spots, they enjoyed the challenge, and were more willing to try the harder steps than my other classes of campers.
Getting the experience of being an archery instructor taught me about planning, time management, and of course archery, but being an archery instructor to Autistic children taught me about patience, caring, joy over the simplicity of life, and that what matters most is how you interact with people.
After teaching just one summer of archery, I realized that my life had completely changed. I had a summer job teaching to Autistic children, and then during the school-year (at university), I worked for a special education program, which paired me with students who were auditing classes at my school.
So, while teaching archery to such a specialized camp may have, at first, made me scared, and seemed crazy to me, it ultimately ended up being the best thing that could've possibly happened to me. Thus, I'm always looking for more ways to become involved in special education... and suggest the chance to all others too!