Safety Publications/Articles


Class act all around

Setting an example with your actions

Much of what we do is an unconscious form of mimicking. We learn by watching others and they're what we become, in one form or another. The same thing is true of flight instructing. We owe much of our teaching style to the way in which we were taught to fly.

That's a little scary, considering that when we're teaching an individual to fly, it's possible he or she may become an instructor--and we may be the ones those students pattern themselves after. Sometimes just the opposite happens: We sometimes have an instructor who is so bad, we resolve never to do what he did.

We've all had both good and bad instructors, but no matter how hard we try it's usually harder to remember details from the good ones than from the bad. Generally, we'll remember that we liked the good instructor and the way he or she related to us. On the other hand, we have absolutely no problem remembering what we hated about bad instructors. For hour after hour that instructor subjected us to a series of personal and professional transgressions that were burned into our brains.

How do we become one of the good guys, when the good guys are sometimes a pleasant but vague image with few specifics? One way is to eliminate from our own teaching repertoire those traits we so hated. We can construct a list of never-to-be-committed no-nos. The following includes some of our least favorite instructor characteristics. Feel free to add your own.

Personal conduct no-nos

1. Lack of punctuality. Everyone's time is valuable. Doesn't it make you grind your teeth when a flight instructor saunters in 30 minutes late with some sort of feeble explanation? If he's been on a student hop, he has a valid excuse, since it's hard to hold an exact schedule when instructing. Even then, about 15 minutes should be the limit. A quality instructor carries his students' contact numbers with him and calls the second he's on the ground to let them know how late he's going to be.

2. Dressing like a slob. Flight instructors are supposed to be professionals. We don't all have to wear ties, but at least our jeans should be clean and our shirts shouldn't look as if we slept in them.

3. Bad personal hygiene. Cockpits are small enough without an instructor who smells like a plow horse and needs a shave. This should fall under the heading of "personal pride." Think about your language, too--is it appropriate to the situation, professional, and absent vulgarities?

4. Lack of preparedness. Students want to strangle an instructor who starts off each lesson with "Now, what did we do last time?" Research your next student and his learning status so you know exactly where to begin. Keep simple notes on each student to help fight instructor brain drain.

5. Bringing personal matters into the cockpit. Students don't care how wasted you got last night or what kind of problems you're having with your spouse, so keep it to yourself. This is their hour in the cockpit, not yours. Make sure your problems don't affect your teaching performance.

Teaching conduct no-nos

1. Degrading the student. Some instructors feel it's their right to talk down to and generally degrade a student. Don't end your sentences with an unspoken "...idiot!" Most students won't put up with it and will find another instructor.

2. Focusing on the negatives. Don't teach with a half-empty-glass mindset. No one wants to hear only what they've done wrong, and no student does everything wrong all the time. Compliment them when they've done it right and show some enthusiasm for their progress. Then ease into the bad news.

3. Yelling. No one likes to be yelled at. It's demeaning and unnecessary and degrades the instructor as much as it does the student. Yelling causes the lines of communication to become difficult as the student starts to shut down.

4. Aggressive control movements. Yeah, that's really mature! Grab the controls from your students and yank the airplane around. They will wind up copying at least part of our behavior, so act like an adult.

5. Impatience. We all become frustrated when a student can't get it together, but no more so than the student does. The last thing he needs is you communicating your impatience or disgust verbally or through body language. Don't forget that at one time we all sat in that seat, and don't think for a minute we didn't frustrate our instructors.

6. "Teaching them a lesson." Some instructors will purposely let a student do something stupid or dangerous (for example, slamming it on the runway because of flaring too high). Anything we do that pushes the safety envelope is not only wrong, but also teaches our students a very dangerous way of thinking.

7. Setting up a student for failure. A few instructors make themselves feel better at the student's expense. They gleefully watch a student struggling with a maneuver, knowing full well it only takes a comment or two from them to straighten them out. Instead, they take the airplane and show what brilliant pilots they are in comparison. We aren't supposed to be brilliant pilots. We're supposed to be brilliant instructors who turn out brilliant students.

8. Never giving the student a chance. Don't over-instruct. Some CFIs forget that the student will eventually be on their own, so start weaning them of all your helpful suggestions.

9. Crowding the controls. Some students never know for sure whether they, or the instructor, are controlling the airplane. Give them a chance to make their own mistakes. Knowing how to recover from a mistake is at least as important as never making it (within reason).

10. Flying the Hobbs meter. Every student deserves as much efficiency as we can muster. We don't want to waste even a minute in the cockpit. Plan the hop so that if, for instance, the pattern is full, you can get more done in the practice area, or at a different airport. At the same time, if he's having a bad day, don't push it. That builds frustration on the student's part. Even though it costs some revenue, call it quits. Don't be up there just to keep the Hobbs running.

It may be difficult to know every one of the qualities (empathy, patience, communication skills, and enthusiasm, to name a few) that make a good instructor great, but we can home in on the qualities that make a bad instructor bad. So, let's start there and ease into the good.

Budd Davisson is an aviation writer/photographer and magazine editor who has written approximately 2,200 articles and has flown more than 300 different types of aircraft. A CFI since 1967, he teaches about 30 hours a month in his Pitts S-2A Special. Visit his Web site.

By Budd Davisson

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