What Makes a Good CFI?

Some believe you must be a great pilot to be a good flight instructor. Others think you have to have great teaching skills. Then there are those who believe it all boils down to patience.

For those who believe it is a matter of patience, sometimes they sell themselves short. Many have the idea they cannot work as a teacher of any subject because of their perceived lack of patience.

Somewhere in their past, they remember the frustration of trying to learn something or perfect a skill which they didn’t quite “get.” What they took away from the lesson was not the joy of flying and making small gains, but the memories of the frustration of their perceived failures.

But did they fail? Perhaps they keyed in on the anger of a poorly trained instructor or an instructor not happy with his or her position in life. Sometimes the frustration a student sees exhibited by their flight instructor has nothing to do with the progress of the student, but everything to do with the instructor’s lack of professional progress.

Regardless of the reason, a student dealing with a flight instructor’s stress is not getting the benefit of quality flight instruction. A flight instructor, who is working with such stress levels and passing that stress onto their student, is cheating the student.

And more importantly, the instructor is damaging their reputation as a professional.

So, what actually makes a good CFI?

First, the instructor has to be content with where they are in life. There is nothing wrong with using the instructor position to build time; most flight instructors are in the game for that very reason. However, while you are instructing, you have to give your very best to the student. While building time, you have to pass down all of your wisdom and all of the tricks of the trade you have learned from those who taught you.

You cannot possibly pass it all down, but you have to do your best trying. You also have to do it in a cheerful manner. Remember the Law of Effect – your students will learn more from a pleasurable experience than from one that is not so fun.

If you are in good humor, you will provide your student with a pleasurable learning environment, one in which they can learn a great deal. On the other hand, if you are in a bad mood, the only thing your student will think about during the lesson is getting it finished and getting out of the airplane.

Again, this will not be good for your reputation as a flight instructor.

One of the reasons some pilots think they are incapable of being a flight instructor is that they question their skills as a pilot. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest stick to be a really good flight instructor. As long as you are a competent commercial pilot, can perform the maneuvers, and fly safely, it is a good bet you will be a decent flight instructor.

Conversely, if you really are the “ace of the base” and can fly anything with great skill and dexterity, it does not necessarily mean you will be a good flight instructor. I have flown with great pilots who could not teach their way out of a wet paper bag, and I have flown with some fantastic flight instructors who were mediocre pilots.

Here is, I think, the reason mediocre pilots become great flight instructors. Those are the pilots who have had to work hard at becoming a pilot. They are also the pilots who remember well how hard it was to learn some aspects about flying.

They never forgot what it was like when they were students, no matter what they went on to achieve later in their careers.


©2010 J. Clark

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