It was a beautiful day for flying that early morning in April 1967. I was to meet my flight instructor for preflight on the Quantico Virginia AirO Club flight line. However, as I approached, he barked. "Well, let's get this over." It was becoming painfully obvious he didn't believe that the best learning conditions often depend on a favorable instructor-student relationship.
Throughout my first lesson his motto seemed to be, "I talk, you listen!" After all, it wasn't his responsibility to create a favorable relationship--he was the instructor and I was a mere student. Of course, it would have helped if he had been a bit more communicative. As we took off, I didn't have a clue as to what the flight instructor expected of me or what I would be expected to learn and do. This apparently was a closely guarded military secret. After we had been flying for about 15 minutes a demon must have taken over the flight instructor. His eyes bulged and face got extremely red as he shouted, "That's NOT the altitude I told you to hold! What's wrong with you? Are you stupid or just 'plane' dangerous?"
My instructor was obviously suffering from some sort of disease. I think the medical term is BIG-O-EGO. Some of his symptoms were:
1. Authoritarian training techniques. If I asked why a task had to be accomplished, he answered, "Because I said so."
2. Emphasis on relative status. The flight instructor is the important person and is not to be bothered with the petty problems of the student, who by definition occupies a lower place in life.
3. Peculiar methods of instruction and correction. Ridicule, sarcasm, personal insults, and threats were used liberally to train and to correct my mistakes.
The underlying philosophies of "break them down before you can build them up" and "remove their will so that they will respond to orders without question" may be applicable in some situations. However, wasn't the flight instructor supposed to try to foster confident decision-making and independent problem-solving in my flying abilities? If so, his BIG-O-EGO would seem to be counterproductive to those goals. The result of the use of these training "techniques" was a loss of mutual respect. I am sure this type training doesn't go on now, or does it?
Some instructors who aren't sure of themselves employ authoritarian training techniques because they lack the attributes of sound judgement, knowledge, and good personal relationships with people. Authoritarian trainers are not certain to what degree of control they can maintain over their students, if they release any control in the decision-making process to the student.
Remember, the key to successful training is to make it student-centered, not instructor-centered! Professional trainers involve their students in the learning process by asking their advice and coaching their students to success. Ideally, the process of positive training gains the willing cooperation of students through the use of sound training techniques. Because of the instructor's sound judgement, knowledge, and personal relationship with the student, the instructor can direct positive attitudes as well as correct technical behaviors during learning.
A point to remember is that the proper use of training techniques is the style that gets the best results, yet maintains mutual respect. We are not restricted to one, stereotyped, method of training. But, if we go around all day with a scowl on our faces, ranting and raving, making every student around us wish we would disappear, we have BIG-O-EGO.
For a good instructor-student relationship to exist, three key factors are required:
Rapport. A close or harmonious relationship; general agreement on objectives and methods.
Empathy. Identification with another; the instructors place themselves "in the other person's shoes" and look at things through the eyes of the student.
Positive Relationship. Students identify with the instructor in a positive way They view the instructor as a leader and teacher, not a disciplinarian or guardian.
Some Other Key Factors To Consider
Boring or repetitious material. At times a subject may be, by its very nature, boring and repetitious. Anticipate the adverse affect on the student and plan accordingly. A new approach, novel examples, and other interactive teaching strategies can often rejuvenate old material and make it more palatable. Do not allow your teaching personality to become lax or stale. Be as dynamic, enthusiastic, and sincere as possible.
Difficult material. Very difficult material can pose a challenge. Carefully plan your methods. During the training, be certain that the student fully understands each teaching point before you go to the next, and allow ample time for student questions.
Individual learning traits. No two people are alike; each possesses a unique personality. The general level of education, the average age, experience, and many other factors all influence the overall attitude, motivation, acceptance of instruction, and willingness to learn. Be aware of this fact, be alert in evaluating student characteristics, and be ready to adjust your material and methods accordingly. By so doing, you can avoid antagonizing an individual and determine the best means of creating an effective learning situation. Failure to do so, will almost certainly result in reduced student learning.
Students have responsibility for learning. Students should be expected to accept certain responsibilities, regardless of individual desires or situations. You should assume that the majority of students will be responsible for their learning. In general, students are expected to:
Conform to flight standards and regulations.
Show respect for the instructor by taking an active part in learning activities and completing assigned work, i.e., ground school assignments.
Accept the fact that in the adult learning situation the student has a major responsibility for what he or she learns.
Instructor responsibilities. You must
accept the responsibilities which accompany the challenging profession
of being an instructor. As a minimum, you must set the example. This includes:
Maintaining a high standard of integrity.
Modeling behaviors you want the students to emulate. (Avoid the "do as I say not as I do" syndrome.)
Managing the training activities efficiently.
Constantly evaluating the learning conditions.
Checking teaching materials for accuracy and effectiveness.
Observing and recognizing student progress.
Reviewing your methods and techniques, and objectively judging your effectiveness.
Maintaining professional growth.
As an instructor you must deal with various conditions in teaching people to fly. The ability to handle individual and group situations comes with practice. Develop your own techniques; however, experienced instructors follow a few definite rules:
Never bluff. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. Tell them that you will get it for them, then follow through.
Be sensitive. Don't use sarcasm or ridicule. It alienates the student. It is eminently unfair to misuse your authority in this way.
"Do unto others..." Never talk down to a student. Although you know more about your subject area, this does not imply that you are superior to the student. To suggest in any manner, however small or minor, that you feel superior will bring instant resentment and seriously affect your ability to teach.
Don't lose patience. There is an adage to the effect that when the student fails to learn, the instructor has failed to teach. This may be questionable in some cases, but it is worth considering. If students seem slow, remember your early experiences in the cockpit, which now seem simple. Keep your temper, and try to invent different ways of explanation.
A final point to remember is that learning is NOT about what you know, but rather what you can teach others about what you know.
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