Those who can't, period
Are new CFIs ready to teach
This is a true story about an actual CFI's recent job interview with the flight school at which the author is chief instructor. The details of "Kathie's" logbook and her training experience are factual, but her name has been changed to protect the flight school that told her she was ready to teach.
Kathie sat across the desk from me, needing this CFI job, but the interview was not going well. She was confused, but she didn't know who to blame: herself; the school she'd paid a lot of money to train her; or me, the unsympathetic interviewer who sat across the desk.
Kathie had graduated 12 months earlier from Big Name Flight School with minimum hours, no teaching practice, and no actual flight time in clouds. But, as I gently tried to explain to her, that's not why she didn't land a job with my flight school here in Kentucky. Any blame for that should be laid directly on her instructors and the flight school for which they worked.
Kathie arrived for our interview with the absolute minimum flight hours required for a CFI certificate to instruct in a single-engine airplane (15), because the policy of the flight school she attended was to complete ratings in a multiengine airplane first, thereby allowing Kathie to "perform the duties as pilot in command." The single engine land rating was an add-on.
Regulations permitted nearly all her flights to have either an instructor or an examiner as the "student" in the other seat. While solo hours had been cut short (only 20), she did have 50 precious hours in a regional jet simulator.
Before we conducted the interview, I had given her my flight school's standard pre-employment knowledge exam, which is compiled directly from FAA Private Pilot questions. She failed it, scoring just 69 percent, but she explained away her failure as a lack of relevance to her training, since carburetor ice isn't often found on a regional jet. Kathie was trained as a first officer, but when she came to my front door, she didn't have an airline job and -- in my humble opinion -- she wasn't qualified as a teacher of flight, either.
Kathie didn't land a job at my flight school because she had no experience being in command. She'd never made critical decisions, and, most important, she couldn't teach. I'm sure she left the interview without a very good opinion of my school, and no doubt she was sure that some other chief instructor would see her talents and hire her on the spot. Maybe.
Kathie's situation is not unique. It's happening to men and women, young and old, from all over the country. Some are starting new careers; others are beginning second ones.
Some flight schools -- like the one that trained Kathie -- are known for turning out first officers. Graduates return home hoping to find ways to build hours and pay student loans, even though they haven't acquired the skills needed to pass the simplest pre-employment exam.
In my opinion, training of this type is a nuisance to the industry. Kathie, who had paid good money for a hoped-for quick route to an airline job, felt betrayed -- and my reputable flight school, with a great position to fill, wasn't able to put an enthusiastic new CFI to work.
Even worse, if Kathie finds a student to teach, she will train Mini-Mes in the only mantra she knows -- and the result will be another generation of pilots who exploit loopholes and cut corners to meet minimum standards. Does the current system produce CFIs ready to trot right out on the tarmac and teach flying? I don't think so.
Our system of training CFIs doesn't produce teachers of flight, it doesn't put graduates to work, and it certainly doesn't grow a safe and healthy industry. It must be changed. Flight instruction is too important to maintain this "meets minimums" mindset.
It doesn't cost any more money or time to do it right. If I were appointed chief instructor of the world, I would offer three cornerstones for a value-added system for training CFIs.
Cornerstone one: Value-added instructor training emphasizes teaching, presentation, and communication skills as opposed to piloting from the right seat. A tape recorder can be an instructor's most valuable tool, as well as a cruel critic. Recording instructional sessions provides practice in teaching and listening.
Cornerstone two: Value-added instructor training is built on specific techniques for creating safe pilots, rather than rote maneuvers. Foster a mindset of seeking out creative, low-cost alternatives that support quality instead of seeking loopholes to cut corners. Utilize free Internet training seminars and tutorials, such as those found on the AOPA Air Safety Foundation Web site. Require new instructors to ride in the backseat to shadow experienced instructors.
Cornerstone three: Value-added instructor training doesn't end with the checkride. A mentor must nurture new instructors. Give senior instructors incentives to help the new folks, or take advantage of a strong mentoring program. We all need fresh ideas and performance reviews to remind us to be the best that we can be.
Value-added CFIs benefit everyone. Dedicated instructors like Kathie can fill positions at reputable flight schools. And, our industry will grow while the next generation of pilots is trained with the right mindset to be the best they can be.
Editor's note: The AOPA Air Safety Foundation encourages full and open debate on ways to improve the flight instruction industry, in part by providing this forum for CFIs, flight schools, and industry leaders. The views expressed of contributors in these spaces are not necessarily those of ASF or AOPA. --Ed.
Arlynn McMahon is chief instructor for Aero-Tech, Inc., a busy flight school with facilities in both Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky. She has been interviewing, hiring, and mentoring CFIs for 25 years. She welcomes feedback.
By Arlynn McMahon