As CFIs, we are models for others
Growing up in Texas, I would sometimes hear someone described as having a "quiet grace." These people seem to have the ability to accomplish important tasks while not drawing attention to themselves. Usually, they would go through life providing the rest of us with a model of dignity, competence, and concern for others while earning the respect of our parents and others in our community.
All of us know people like this. Many of us remember a teacher, family member, doctor, or friend who always had time to offer thoughtful, helpful advice when we had a problem. We somehow knew exactly where this person stood on issues of right and wrong.
As flight instructors, we have an opportunity and an obligation to act with quiet grace. Good or bad, we provide a model for others in aviation. A wise friend once told me, as I was complaining about my child not following instructions, "Children will listen to very little that you say, but they will watch everything you do." In the same way, the pilots we fly with always notice how we act.
I've seen instructors who, having recently acquired some new technical knowledge about the latest electronic device in our cockpit, cannot resist dumping it all at once on some poor unsuspecting student whose eyes have rolled back into his head as he tries to make sense of the techno-jargon while understanding little.
Other instructors, perhaps becoming bored with teaching basic skills, decide to "spice things up a little" and end up scaring the student right out of aviation and into the "small airplanes are dangerous" camp--or worse. It is not always easy to remain motivated, but it is always required. We are, first, last, and always, responsible for our clients' safety and success.
Finally, instructors, me included, sometimes talk too much. Given the right scenario along with proper understanding beforehand, most students will learn best with only a little help from us. This is where art meets science. Done right, magic happens and the student "gets it." Most really talented teachers have a way of making sense without making noise.
So how should we approach this effort to become better examples? Certainly we start with competence as a pilot and an ability to teach. Beyond this, humility in knowing what we don't know, along with a willingness to listen more than we speak, and offering encouragement constantly to other aviators who are learning the same lessons we once struggled through can help. Creating an atmosphere of safety during instruction is critical. The student should never feel that something is risky or dangerous.
Self-effacing humor is tremendously helpful. Students already know we know more than they do. Reminding them of our exploits serves only to widen the distance. Rather, offer examples of our own struggles to accomplish aviation goals as a way to encourage and reinforce their efforts. Humor can relieve anxiety and promote learning. My partner, Pat Shaub, does a great job of helping flight instructors learn how people learn. He describes the importance of starting a lesson with an entertaining or funny segment to let students relax and become ready to learn. There are many other tools to create effective instruction, but it all rests on a foundation of character.
I hope you have had teachers or others in your life whom you would describe as having a quiet grace. More important, I hope your students will come to think of you this way as well.
Ken Wittekiend, a CFII, co-owns Eagle Training Solutions in Burnet, Texas. He owns a Beech Bonanza and a Piper Super Cub, and with more than 8,100 hours in his logbook is still enthusiastically instructing full-time. He specializes in advanced IFR training and tailwheel proficiency.
By Ken Wittekiend