Being a flight instructor brings a lot with it including various responsibilities, many opportunities and a lot of fun! But there are a couple quick things that every flight instructor should strive to personify to provide the best training environment.
Similarly, if you’re a student pilot, or even a certificated pilot, presently working with a flight instructor to reach your next training goal these are some traits you should look for in your teacher, who by default is oftentimes your aviation guidance counselor. This post will be written towards the flight instructor/ flight instructor candidate audience, but for non-instructors you will see the traits to look for…
1. Set the tone
As the flight instructor, whether it is during a one-on-one flight or ground lesson or in a large-class group setting it is vitally important that you as the flight instructor set the tone for the training experience. This happens almost immediately and has long-lasting, far-reaching impacts over the course of training.
During a one-on-one training session setting the tone provides a clear example for the student to follow. If you as the instructor take the training event seriously, so too will the student. It is important to hold an inviting, but also firm (when necessary) setting where student can succeed!
When faced with a training event featuring an audience of more than one student, you will face a situation where various individuals, each with their own unique personality will participate. This makes it all the more important that the instructor provides a clear course for the group and fosters a serious, yet enjoyable learning environment. In a prior time, I had the opportunity to teach “Learn to Fly” ground school courses with another instructor, our own Jim Quinn. Jim and I, worked well together, ensuring the presentations were lively and comedy in appropriate amounts was utilized to foster a positive classroom experience for the groups of 8 to 20, depending on the session. We each had unique traits so we could balance each other and provide an example for the students.
2. Be on time
This item transcends working as a flight instructor, and is really a life lesson, being on time is of vital importance to anything we do. Often times flight lessons are constrained because of multiple scheduling factors: student availability, instructor availability and aircraft availability. This is the perfect world, add in weather, maintenance, etc… and things get even more strained.
One of the toughest challenges for a busy flight instructor is jumping from lesson to lesson. Providing quality instruction, being intimately familiar with various aircraft and moving from one lesson to the next are all challenges. But as an instructor we serve as our students’ aviation example and as such it is critical that we lead by example. If we as the instructor are on time it is reasonable to expect or students to be on time. It would not be fair to demand our students to be prepared and on time if we ourselves are not. Granted, in aviation we work in a dynamic environment and things change and challenges come up, so occasionally being late can happen but it should be a rarity as opposed to a trend.
Beyond the items listed in the graph above, an effective flight instructor must be totally familiar with his/her students too. If you as an instructor are asking a student to do homework and be prepared for X, Y and Z on the next lesson then you should be prepared to receive them and be ready to go when they arrive. Sure, asking to glance at the student’s logbook before the lesson is an effective way to confirm where you left off or what has and hasn’t been covered recently, but you should be familiar with the student beyond the training.
A few commonalities and talking points goes a long way in building a relationship. If your student is a college student, try to keep pace with what courses they are taking, this could provide effective training parallels. Similarly, if you student asks to fly over their home to take a couple pictures during a lesson and you see their grass is burnt to a crisp because they don’t water it, even though ALL of their neighbors do, this could be a good joke to have in your back pocket when needed down the road in the training. (Sorry Will, I still remember the lawn…) The point here is to be on time and be prepared to provide an effective training for your student, this takes many forms beyond simply beating the clock.
3. Be consistent
Consistency is the final one of my flight instructor big three traits. Having a consistent approach, providing a consistent learning experience and a consistence environment all are critically important to helping our students succeed.
A consistent approach will ensure that students have the benefit or hearing and seeing things the same way. This consistency will aide in students’ development as the learning experience is a known commodity. On a basic level, we can look at steep turns. If during the maneuvers on one flight lesson the student hears one message over and over and then on a follow up lesson on steep turns the student hears something different this could create a challenge. If the focus is keeping the center of the cowling just above the horizon is the main message on multiple lessons then on another lesson the student hears more about the “ball” on the attitude indicator being just above the horizon line more and more this could cause confusion.
Over the course of flight training it is vital that messages don’t change. To take an analogy, imagine your favorite football team is driving down the field. Suddenly, upon reaching the 5-yard line, the officials chance the width of the field goal posts. This wouldn’t be very fair as the team knew what it was up against the entire time and then upon reaching their present location, the context changed… Let’s ensure we don’t change the field goal posts on our students!
For a period of time I was fortunate enough to teach collegiate aviation courses at two New England colleges. Prior to my first experience teaching in this new setting I looked for counsel from an instructor role model of mine who was my favorite professor when I was a college student. It was all the more exciting that I would be teaching “his” classes following his retirement at my alma mater. I will never forget the lesson he shared with me. In short, when it comes to teaching a class, especially a class made up of younger students, you can always ease up as the semester goes along but you can never become more stringent or strict, once a class learns your style they will not be able to adapt effectively and learn in the new “harder” setting. So, as he explained, you start off strong and then loosen up, because going the other way is a disservice to your students.
This wasn’t to say that we have to be drill instructors in the classroom or the cockpit, but the point is that consistency is key, going from lackadaisical to strict is not going to provide a good setting for your students, thus it is key to make the expectations and “rules of the classroom/cockpit” known up front and provide a consistent approach. Then as a student gets further along, demonstrates internal motivation and has clear focus, you as the instructor can loosen the reigns and let the student really learn… Think of this has how guarded you are as an instructor during landing training. Early on your hands are real close to the yoke, ready to take over when necessary, but as the student becomes more consistent, you’re still “on your game” on each approach and landing, but by the time the student is close to solo your hands are in your lap and you’re ready to climb out and let them go at it alone!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9