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Professionally Speaking

The need to know

Tell your students how they're doing

This is a non-religious, politically correct, and secular column. Still, we can get from an old hymn a line that might well have been written by a student about a CFI.

The line goes, "He leadeth me. He leadeth me. By His own hand He leadeth me."

I am absolutely convinced that the line describes the one virtue that all students want in a CFI - they want a CFI who "leadeth" them. I have talked with flight students, would-be students, and ex-students quite literally from coast to coast and border to border. More than anything else, they want a CFI who says to them, "Start here and work through to here. Study these books, take this test, go to this class, show up prepared for these flight lessons, and you will succeed."

In other words, they want a CFI who will tell them, "Do this, and you will succeed." (That's what students tell me, and I understand. I want the same type of education on computer and software operations. I have found it only once, and that was from an experienced CFI who also knew computers.)

Now, what do you suppose many CFIs (certainly not any of you CFIs who read AOPA Flight Training, but your unwashed competitors) tell me? That they don't want to be too dictatorial; they don't want to sell a set package; they don't want to say it has to be done this way. Quite frequently, they use that old line: "I don't want the student to think I am trying to sell him/her something."

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating: I have never, ever met a student who told me that the CFI was too pushy about selling a plan of action, be it called a package, a course, or a program. Repeat, I have never heard that complaint.

I have, however, heard many, many students report that the CFI never told them exactly what to do; they were not sure how far they had come and how far they had to go; they didn't know how they were doing.

That last, by the way, is a universal question: "How am I doing? Am I on track, getting better, learning the right things fast enough? Is my flying up to par? Or am I a hopeless klutz? Please, please, tell me. I need to know!" That's a universal need for any educational endeavor, but it's even more important in flight training. Many students arrive at the airport believing that some people are born pilots, and others will never learn. They have an almost desperate need to know - in which group do I fall? Am I wasting my time? Am I making a fool of myself? Does everybody at the airport know I am a hopeless case?

If students tell me the truth, some CFIs (again, certainly not our readers) must want to keep the student a little uptight, a little nervous. Indeed, more than one CFI has told me, "I don't want them getting cocky."

Students need to know about stalls, navigation, emergency procedures, weather, and preflights. They also need to know where to start, what to study, what to read, what to practice, and what to buy. They need to know where they are on the program, and how they are doing.

A good challenge is fun. Not knowing how you are doing is misery. Students having fun stay in aviation and make good pilots. Students in misery quit. Seems simple enough, doesn't it? Of course you knew that. You read AOPA Flight Training.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for 33 years and has amassed more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating.

By Ralph Hood

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