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Certified Flight Instructor, Commercial Pilot, Training

Learning to Teach

September 14, 2014

Total Hours: 66.6

Finished up my second week of the commercial/CFI training. The experience thus far is quite different from my training in the private. For example, because I had finished so much ground work before starting my private the main focus was flying. Every day, flying, flying. Trying to nail the maneuvers. There was a lot of pressure. Granted it was really just self-imposed. And now the days of flying are spaced out nicely with my main focus being lesson plans, ground sessions and learning to teach.

The ground sessions have been going pretty well. The first lessons that I had to teach were also the longest. Because of that it took a lot of effort to prepare them and on top of that I was trying to learn exactly how much information to try and present. The goal for September is simply to try and finish the first four lessons, so there isn’t too much pressure. But I still found my schedule too demanding. Sticking with my plan to keep these ratings all about fun and relaxation I told my instructor that I wanted less ground sessions so I could have more time to prepare. I find that I am driven to rise to the demand, to a fault really. If my instructor tells me that we’ll have five sessions I want to be prepared for five lessons even if I’m suffering to do it. Of course this was leading to those stressful feelings again.

I recalled a piece of advice I got from a friend before I started my training. He told me that I should never forget that I’m the boss. I’m hiring the school to perform a service for me. His point being that I shouldn’t hesitate to call the shots or request that changes be made if I feel they could benefit me. Of course this has its limitations. I am very dependent on my instructor to make sure that I’m covering all the material and working on the areas that I need to. And the FAA practical test standards are what they are, there’s no changing that. But there is a great deal of flexibility in the scheduling.

Which reminds me of another piece of advice I got. Many sources suggested investing as much time as possible into flying. Flying more gives better continuity from one lesson to the next. But they were talking about training multiple times per week vs. multiple times per month. I think I may have taken this to an extreme as looking back I’m not so sure that six or seven days a week of flying is really more beneficial than four or five. You do build hours faster though… But for now we’ve reined in the flying and even the ground sessions. The workload of preparing lessons and studying demands it.

As I’ve worked through the first three lessons I’ve learned something else. I have a desire for perfection (sound familiar?) and that can get in the way of completing a rough draft of the lessons. We have a syllabus that gives the outline of what material needs to be in each lesson. But then almost any topic could be done simply or expanded to a deep level of complexity. Guess which one I like… I think my intention at first was to create the perfect lesson plan before I even presented it to my instructor. But in the interest of actually getting the lessons done I’m trying to stick to the syllabus and a simpler version. Once I have a rough draft I get to try teaching the material and then I get feedback. The teaching and critique session is very valuable and there is no real point in thinking that a lesson could be taught without any suggestions to making it better. The critique is there to help build the lesson, so I am trying to take advantage of that. And as I build my lesson plans I can see that there will be a lot of time to continue filling in the details. In fact I will be surprised if I don’t continue to build and expand my lesson plans even after I start teaching. And I think that is the mark of a really good teacher. One who is committed to continuing his education instead of settling for good enough.

The other thing I’m working on is talking my way through the maneuvers. Every time we go out flying I try to say each thing I do out loud. It sounds easy, right? But imagine talking your way through driving your car.

“First we wait for the light to turn green. Okay, now I’m clearing the area to check for other traffic and pedestrians. Now I’m pressing lightly on the accelerator. I’m watching my speed. Keeping my eyes outside. Now double check the light and look for any oncoming traffic. Applying my turn signal. Continue accelerating through the light and turn the steering wheel lightly. Steering wheel for direction, accelerator for speed, brakes for slowing down.” I think you get the point.

And of course there’s also that fact that for me flying a helicopter is nowhere near as automatic as driving a car. My mind is busy thinking about what to do, not how to explain what I’m doing. And another tough thing is learning to critique the maneuvers. I usually have a pretty good idea of what I’ve done wrong when things come out poorly. But the other day my instructor told me he would play a student making an approach and I should critique it. After several moments of sitting in silence he asked, “Why aren’t you saying anything?” I didn’t know what to say!

I can see that becoming an instructor will involve growth in many areas. I continue to be very excited about this growth, about honing my skills, and about introducing flying to new people. I don’t really know what the reality will be like, I’m sure at times teaching will be great, and other times frustrating, and probably occasionally a bit scary. But I’m sure I’ll work it out one way or the other!


About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.


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