Choosing your instructor is a bit like going on a blind date – you just don’t know if it will be a compatible match, but you just go with it anyway. The truth is, student pilots are often assigned an instructor, without much say in the matter, despite being the paying clients in most cases. Besides the obvious personality compatibilities, it is pretty difficult for a new student to discern whether they have a good instructor or not. What is certain, is that finding the right instructor is extremely important in your flying career, and can easily inspire you, or tarnish your dream of flying. What follows is an idea of what to look out for, and a reminder, that even if an instructor is rated as brilliant by others, if they make you uncomfortable, your flying days are not going to be enjoyable.
It may not be right to always judge a book by its cover, but appearance will certainly provide clues. Aviation is a professional field, and any credible flight school will ensure that its instructors provide an example of what is expected in the industry. An instructor who takes little care in their appearance is unlikely to take much interest in you.
An instructor who smokes is not necessarily a bad instructor, but can be an inconsiderate one, especially if you are a non-smoker. Not only are they ignoring the damaging effects to health, which could lead to a loss of a medical further down the road, but they can stink out a single engine cockpit within minutes. Smoking in the vicinity of aircraft and fuel is also just plain careless and stupid.
An instructor who is always inexcusably late is hard to take seriously. A good instructor may be busy, and may not want to rush the student before you, but they will always communicate and let you know.
This one is probably the most significant one, and there are a number of things to look out for here:
Ego – A good instructor is not one who thinks he/she is a brilliant pilot, and who aims to show you what THEY can do. It is their job to be totally focussed on you, and not themselves.
Positivity – A positive attitude will help you progress faster, and encourage you to do even better for your instructor the following lesson.
Setting an example – This is of primary importance. An instructor who displays a bad attitude towards their own colleagues, those from other schools or organisations, or mocks their students should be avoided on principle.
Not every pilot, even if they have years of experience, makes a good instructor. It takes a special kind of people skills in order to transfer information and flying skills to another person. Instructors must be able to adapt to different types of students, and communicate accordingly. This is sorely lacking in instructor training – soft people skills, which are just as essential as in other industries. An instructor should never put you down for not understanding something, but rather, should find a different way of communicating. My absolute worst is an instructor who shouts – this for me is highly unprofessional, and is hardly ever likely to be beneficial to learning. Remember that the student, could one day become the instructor, and this is hardly a trait that should be passed on. Shouting reflects poor CRM (Cockpit Resource management), and if your instructor does this regularly, change your instructor, and report this behaviour to the school management.
There are some instructors out there who will regularly grab the controls during your lesson. This can lead to a very confusing situation, where the student is unsure whether they, or the instructor is flying the plane. The student should be allowed to make mistakes, in order to feel what they are doing wrong, without the intervention of the instructor, unless of course, in the interests of safety. What is important, is that it is made very clear who has control by using the phrases “I have control” or “You have control”.
- Building Hours
This is most often the primary reason why new pilots become instructors. Not to say that all hour builders are bad instructors, because many are enthusiastic aviators who have real passion for flying, and will share it with everyone. What you want to look out for is the guy or girl who seems to be milking you for hours, when you feel ready to move on. A good school will have checks in place, whereby, after a certain number of hours, the CFI or another instructor, will do a check flight with you. This brings me to the next point…
- Multiple Instructors
I do not believe that having a different instructor every day is constructive to learning. The invariable happens – instructor B does not know what instructor A taught the student the day before, and as a result reproduces the lesson with a different set of instructions and way of doing the same thing. This is very frustrating for the student, who then does not know what method to use. My opinion? If you are happy with your instructor, stick with them, especially for your initial training. Building up a good relationship with your instructor will make your experience a memorable one.
A good instructor will always give you proper feedback after your lesson, once on the ground. This allows you to digest what you have learnt, work out what you need to improve on, without the added pressure of flying at the same time. Your instructor should also prepare you for what to expect in your next lesson, and will brief you just before you start the lesson.
Your instructor should be your primary source of motivation, and should really show you the love with every milestone that you achieve. After all, every success that you have is their success too.
Finally, your instructor should be consistent and meticulous with your training. They should not let standards slip, and you should commit to being up to the task. If you are not happy with your instructor, you have every right to change to another, so do not feel dictated to. However, just as you want the best instructor, you should be the best student that you can be. Stand up, show up, be prepared and give your best!
Please share your instructor experiences in the comments below, we want to hear what made your instructor the best, or the one that you would rather forget.