As a brand new Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI), I had big ideas about how I was going to teach. I felt that how I had been taught was surely the ONLY way to teach someone else. After all, if I learned that way, wasn’t it the best way? I had great respect for my CFIs, and surely they knew what they were doing, right? So, off I went filling my schedule with as many students as I could fit into each day, week, and month.
As time went on, the hours added up and the check rides were passed. One day, Gary, my very first student to pass the Private Pilot flight check under my endorsement, asked me, “Do you think you’re instructing differently now than when you first started?” The question made me realize how much I was learning from each individual with whom I had the privilege to fly.
Why yes, as a matter of fact, I had changed my style. How? Well, for one thing I began to feel comfortable trying different teaching techniques with different people. I recognized that one style of teaching does not fit all styles of learning. We all do learn differently, don’t we? When a student would ask a question about a particular subject or maneuver, it caused me to recognize a new way to teach the procedure or concept; as well as see him or her uniquely and learn something about them as a person.
Working alongside other CFIs is also a terrific way to see things from a different perspective. As an example, when I was having difficulty getting the student to see the proper “sight picture” for landing, a fellow instructor suggested that I cover the instrument panel, forcing the pilot to look outside. Guess what? This worked so well that I now have every pilot spend at least a few minutes with the panel covered. This demonstrates how important it is to look outside, not only for collision avoidance but to see what the airplane attitude and horizon picture can do for them.
Another example: At the beginning of my instructing career I taught touch-and-gos because that’s what my instructor did for me. I didn’t give much thought to the advantages or disadvantages of this practice. After talking with my peers and reading several articles, I realized that touch-and-gos are not necessarily safe or productive for beginning pilots. In the early phase of learning landings, a student will usually benefit more from doing full-stop, taxi-back landings. In this way the CFI can discuss the previous approach and landing and give praise for a job well done, or make correctional comments while taxiing back for the next takeoff. The CFI can even take control of the plane during taxi so that the pilot can relax a little and process what the CFI is saying without the distraction of focusing on the centerline.
A different way of teaching maneuvers came at me from a peer instructor one day. We were talking about the difficulty one student was having with steep turns. The senior instructor suggested starting with a review of medium (30-degree) turns first to build the pilot’s confidence and gradually add more and more bank angle until he or she is proficient with 45-degree turns. A great idea….and it worked! I have even carried this concept into teaching chandelles. Fly one half of the maneuver – up to the first 90-degree turn. Then stop. Repeat in the opposite direction. When this part of the maneuver is smooth and precise, add the second half. This approach works every time because there is less new “stuff” to digest while trying to fly the plane, look out the window, watch for traffic, and keep tabs on the maneuver’s standards.
There have been many more examples as I have continued to observe and learn from both my students and peers. Flight Training’s phrase “A good pilot is always learning” is certainly true, and even the most experienced instructors would do well to keep it in mind.
Jean Runner, MCFI