Former middle- and high-school teacher Chris Moser was appalled during flight training lessons for his instrument rating when he asked an instructor for a written curriculum and was given a single sheet of paper scrawled with barely a handful of instrument flying topics.
“I remember trying to perform a DME arc approach, but I had never seen one before, nor had been told to read about it or prepare beforehand, and It was unbelievably frustrating,” recalled the multiengine instructor, longtime educator, and AOPA senior director of flight training education. “My instructor wrote down the basic requisites on a napkin—attitude instrument flying, holds, and approaches—then handed it to me and said, ‘OK that’s your syllabus.’ That was a vivid memory of how not to do it.”
Moser researched effective teaching methods for a master’s thesis and is anxious to share the findings with flight schools, college aviation programs, and fellow CFIs.
Moser’s study revealed that utilizing commonsense teaching methods led to the most consistent results. A systematic approach to lessons, homework, and practice naturally results in better comprehension because it keeps students on task and on track. However, Moser cautioned flight instructors to realize that certain individuals may need specific reinforcement rather than have them conform to a “one size fits all” approach. For example, some learners love lectures while others prefer practical or hands-on experience.
Moser’s research began with a couple of suppositions about good teaching practices and how they can relate to flying. Using a good curriculum, which was made clear during his initial exposure to instrument training, was a key takeaway. Part 141 flight school operators are required to have a curriculum and to adhere to it. However, Moser noted that “some Part 61 flight schools have a curriculum, and some don’t.” Publishing a curriculum is one thing, “but it’s another thing to execute it properly,” he said.
Moser attended a Part 141 flight school for his private pilot instruction and was furnished a curriculum and a textbook. “I had homework to do, and I was diligent about reading and preparing for my lessons,” he recalled. The consistency led to a positive experience that stuck with Moser.
“Here’s the kicker. The school I went to for my private training didn’t do instrument instruction. They said, ‘Go across the hall to get your instrument rating,’ so I did. There was no syllabus at all. I put my blind faith in them and did what they told me. I followed a pilot training syllabus that I had, and I did what they said.” That’s when the napkin appeared—and along with it—the frustration that can quickly derail a student.
Instructors are “generally excellent pilots,” Moser noted, but some may themselves need coaching to help identify effective teaching methods that lead to consistent results among students. Moser also theorized that a well-organized learning environment is good for a fight training business’s bottom line because it maximizes an instructor’s and a student’s time and their resources.
Moser said that encouragement delivered with a dose of constructive criticism can help students focus on skills that need more work, but it can also help instructors become better coaches. “People like compliments because [they boost] their ego, but [compliments don’t] really do anything” to make a student a more accomplished pilot. He learned that you “have to be more specific” and suggested instructors pick a successful maneuver or accomplishment and discuss what was specifically effective during a deeper analysis after each lesson. “Obviously, we know that insulting people is bad—but just generically praising them isn’t effective either.”
“What you want people to do is to internalize the instruction and then grow from it,” explained Moser. “Think about the lesson in these terms: ‘What happened, why did it happen, and how can I improve from it?’ Let’s say if you did something perfectly, think, ‘All right how did I do that? How can I be consistent, and how can I get better each time?’ A good example is landings—they aren’t perfect every time but then you luck out with a greaser and you say, ‘Oh, that was perfect.’ Think about what you did and try to duplicate it the next time.”
Although an economic downtown from the coronavirus pandemic has temporarily slowed the jump of CFIs from the flight lines to the flight decks, retaining instructors is a primary concern among flight schools. Students and schools can become discouraged when CFIs jump ship.
Moser explained that it takes time to begin a new student-teacher relationship and to learn which teaching methods are most appropriate for individual students. “Basically, by the time CFIs get really good at teaching, they have enough hours to move on” to a more prosperous or more prestigious flying career. “We know that flight instructors only instruct for a year or two” while they are building the hours needed to qualify for other positions. “The end goal of becoming a professional flight instructor is rare,” Moser said.
Despite his initial setbacks, Moser’s story has a happy ending. “I went to another school, found a better instructor, and it turned out to be a great place to learn.” After earning a flight instructor certificate, Moser was mindful to merge some empathy into his flight training equation. “I’m just trying to get the word out about what good flight training looks like” to help students learn more efficiently.
The You Can Fly program is funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To be a part of the solution, visit www.aopafoundation.org/donate.