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The Engine Within

Flight lessons often teach me more than the stated objectives. I have come away from some lessons with knowledge of my limitations as a human being and a glimpse of factors operating outside my limited view of the universe. For me, greater self-awareness has always been a byproduct of learning to fly.

After one particularly meaningful lesson, I wrote the following in my logbook: "Secretly I am hoping that when I become an instructor my students will need saving from incipient spins and bad landings. Then I can come to their rescue after giving them just the right amount of time to experience and learn from their mistakes. I admit it here in my logbook because, as I practice for my CFI checkride, a little part of me is afraid that without a few 911 moments, I will become like many CFIs - bored with training students. Today, the universe heard my thoughts and sent me a radial engine...." (More about the radial engine later.)

Because I flew as a private pilot for nine years before deciding to get my commercial and CFI certificates, I have had the opportunity to be the student of more than a few CFIs. Some have seemed bored to the point of semi-consciousness, even while giving me instruction. Others, though obviously overworked, still had a zeal I couldn't explain but had to admire. I have wondered why some instructors relish their work while others don't. What makes one person perk like an espresso bean while another acts like a dead battery? Now that I was about to become a CFI, a fear of becoming that which I least liked - a bored flight instructor - hit me just as it had 30 years ago when I thought I was becoming just like my mother. Would sitting in the right seat while students practiced stalls, slow flight, and turns again and again make me into a zombie? Did I have the personality and character for instructing?

This troubled me enough to make me consider not only what I was getting into by becoming an instructor but also what I had learned about myself while working in corporate America. There, I had been exposed to all kinds of personality tests and management assessments. I usually tried to either outsmart these tests or play their "game," depending on whether the test was for a new job, a promotion, or team building. Eventually, and in spite of myself, a consistent picture of who I was and was not started to come through. And, just as importantly, I began to understand other people's temperaments and character traits too.

The very fact that I cajoled a man who instructs only if he wants to into overseeing my CFI training points to my internal programming. I needed someone who wouldn't coddle me, and Bill, whose career included crop-dusting, flight instructing, and working as an A&P - as well as time spent as a professional engineer and author - was just the person. Although I may have gravitated unconsciously to Bill, clearly he fit my personality type.

The two best-known tools for understanding personality and temperament types are the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. They use different questionnaires to help people identify and understand their internal character traits. I think of these assessments as comparable to different airplane engines - they all run, but some engines function better in certain environments than others. The theory is that temperament, character, and personality are configured, meaning that temperament is inborn and character is the emergent form, and as a result people are predisposed to develop certain attitudes and preferences. Knowing your personality type may even point you in a career direction away from teaching altogether.

Guided by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an ENFP, although my percentages are very close to another group - ENTP. (It's comforting to know that aviation isn't the only calling that speaks in alphabet soup.) There are four primary traits with 16 possible combinations. The primary traits describe, in order, where your source of energy comes from, how you prefer to process information, how you make decisions, and how you prefer to organize your life. For example, if you are an ENFP, you are more extroverted than introverted, and you get energy from the outer world and spoken thoughts. When situations occur where there is a choice of acting or thinking first, an E acts first, and an I, or introvert, thinks. Both types may come to the same outcome in different ways.

The next letter, N, stands for intuition. Ns like possibilities, change, and innovation. They take in information by recognizing patterns and big pictures more than by concentrating on facts and details. The other preference is S for sensing. If you are an S you relate to direct communication and focus on the present.

The next layer of personality preference describes how we make decisions. We are either T for thinking or F for feeling. Ts make decisions with logic and objectivity, and Fs make decisions on the basis of personal values.

The final letter reveals how you organize your life through either judgment or perception. Do you appear organized and structured, or do you shoot from the hip, discovering life as it goes? Ps tend to be flexible and explore options rather than live in a firm and controlled manner. Js are just the opposite. Personality assessments are frequently used to help individuals determine which careers and occupations they will find most satisfying and are best suited to do. There are many sources for more information about personality assessments, including a Web site designed to help you identify your personality type and careers that work well with it ( www.doi.gov/octc/personal.html ).

Educational psychologist Doug Dean ( www.dougdean.com/learning) points out that each psychological type has its own learning style, but that our standard system of education is one-dimensional. He says, "Knowledge of learning styles - whether you are teaching others or receiving instruction - can help you to prevent losses of productivity that can occur at school or on the job. If you are a teacher, knowing whether your student is a conceptual thinker (intuitive) or concrete thinker (sensing) may mean the difference between success or failure in reaching that person."

As flight instructors we try to move students successfully through a syllabus, lesson plan by lesson plan, with the goals of helping our students to make progress in meeting the objectives of the practical test standards and becoming safe pilots. Shouldn't our lesson plans also take into account how different personalities learn?

According to Dean, I have an NF (verging on NT) learning style. NFs like group discussions and learn best when lessons focus on insightful or imaginative topics, while NTs learn best when they can understand the "why" of everything. NFs don't learn as well if they are criticized too much. NTs are happiest when learning involves experimentation, invention, and complex problems. The other two main leaning styles are SJ and SP. If you are an SJ, you don't excel with unstructured or abstract lessons. Acronyms were invented just for SJs who like classroom settings, repetition, and workbook exercises. On the other side are the SPs who can't stand traditional lesson plans. An SP learner isn't prone to sitting down and studying for the knowledge test, so you may need to try different, more action-oriented training materials like a CD-ROM course for this type of student.

Knowing how you and your students prefer to function and learn can help you understand why one student frustrates you while another inspires you, or why, once you have mastered teaching private pilot skills, you are bored teaching at that level but love the complexities of teaching instrument students.

As I said, lessons have often taught me more than the stated objectives. On the crisp blue-sky day in October that the universe heard my cries and sent me a radial engine, I got a chance to fly with Bill in his 450-hp Navy N3N-3 with its large Pratt & Whitney engine hanging up front. (In terms of airplane psychology it has the personality of Mae West with the looks of a pro wrestler.)

I felt the same anticipation, excitement, and anxiety that I had felt during my first flight lessons years ago. Flying up there, I saw the world outside framed between two sets of wings as the wind tugged at my goggles. Inside, I saw elements of my personality coalescing together as Bill encouraged me (OK, he was yelling) to be precise with the stick and rudder. My internal engine was on fire, and my learning soared. If only I could do this for my students someday.

We don't have to get bored or burned out with teaching unless we aren't suited for the career. Our job is to recognize what drives our own internal engine and determine how our students learn best. Then, it's like putting a code in a transponder - suddenly you and your students can communicate with each other and work together. That's when the real learning, and fun, begins to happen.

Primary Personality Types

The most common personality type test is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, which uses four categories to identify 16 possible personality types. Each of the categories is further broken down into two possible personality traits. The categories and associated personality traits are:

  1. Where your energy comes from.
    • Extrovert (E) - These people draw energy from the world outside themselves, including other people, activities, and objects.
    • Introvert (I) - This group prefers to draw energy from the internal world of ideas, feelings, and impressions.
  2. How you take in information and what you pay attention to.
    • Sensing (S) - Uses the senses to take in information and focuses on what is "real."
    • Intuitive (N) - Uses intuition or a "sixth sense" to take in information. Focuses on possibilities.
  3. How you make decisions.
    • Thinking (T) - Organizes and structures information to make decisions in a logical, objective way.
    • Feeling (F) - Prefers to organize and structure information to make decisions based on values or other personal criteria.
  4. How you organize your life.
    • Judgment (J) - Likes to live an organized, well-planned life.
    • Perception (P) - Would rather live a spontaneous life. Likes flexibility.

Each personality type is identified by a combination of four letters, one from each of the four categories. For example, someone who is extroverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging would be designated an ENTJ.

By Dorothy Schick

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