I think all honest pilots will confess that every new certificate or rating means we have only the basic “starter kit” or “license to learn.” If you are like me you are shocked in retrospect by how little you originally knew (and they let me do all that stuff!) This is especially true for the flight instructor certificate (but unfortunately very few seem to act that way or seek improvement). Teaching anyone the essential skills of aviation should be approached with the greatest humility and care. So many things can go wrong both in the immediate present but also with the latent habits you create (or not). I believe both our depressing student drop out rate in general aviation and also our continually miserable safety record could both be greatly improved if we could increase the level of professionalism in our Aviation Educator ranks. This is a key mission of SAFE.
As a 141 chief instructor running a flight school for 25 years (which included being a DPE evaluating the “finished product”) I have witnessed great and wonderful moments but also every form of CFI abuse and defect. I confess to some serious incompetence and arrogance myself when I first earned my CFI certificate. “Wow, I’m a CFI…the government said so, it must be true” At the time we had that amazing FAA instructor manual we quietly called “good dog, bad dog” (because of it’s totally behaviorist approach to “training” ..not education!) Fortunately the handbooks have greatly improved and in my case I had two very important influences early in my career that made all the difference and for which I shall be forever grateful.
One positive influence for me was a demanding chief instructor and mentor John “Stick” Stickle. He was alternatively kind and sharing and also imperious and unyielding on technique and safety. The other essential influence was the guidance and inspiration from Greg Brown’s amazing book “The Savvy Flight Instructor” and the associated Master Instructor Program developed by Sandy and JoAnn Hill (Greg was the their first Master Instructor). It’s unfortunate but you really don’t start out “amazing” (or even “good”) in the CFI world and improvement doesn’t come without effort and feedback. You are granted the “starter kit” in the 8060-4 (temporary) and have to work and learn every day if you want to improve.
It is very easy to fool yourself into a self-satisfied, god-like incompetence (you can find one at every airfield). Inherently trusting students tend to worship even the most incompetent CFIs. It is essential to keep learning and challenging yourself to raise the bar and get better. I highly recommend a mentor who is honest and caring to test and improve your skills and technique. If you are not able to work with a locally senior instructor, SAFE is retooling the mentor program (up and running soon). Participation in the Master Instructor Program is also essential if you want to keep your skills sharp and gain ground in the world of aviation education. We will discuss CFI improvement more thoroughly in future articles. The flight instructor is the essential source for aviation student retention and superior instruction will result in fewer accidents.