Weaker Moments as a Flight Instructor

You’re fired!!

Those words have never been said to me but in a roundabout way, I’ve said them. Not to an employee either. To a student.

Not my strongest moment.

We’ve all had our frustrating students. The ones that won’t study. The ones that show up late (so habitually that you can show up late and actually appear to have been on time!). The ones that just don’t seem to get it – not flying, not ever.

5 years after I was handed that temporary certificate – that license to teach someone else – and I still feel like I’m the student.

I sat there in that debriefing room staring at my frustrated student. With all his wrinkles, gray hairs, and past military experience and here he was looking to me – a 25 year old instructor “whippersnapper” – for wisdom, for advice, for knowledge, for feedback. I didn’t have any more to give. He was frustrated, I was frustrated.

12Our relationship had begun roughly a year earlier. I took him over after he was dissatisfied with a previous instructor. After nearly 70 hours he finally soloed and promptly headed off to Florida for the winter.

He was back now, only with him he now had a Sport Pilot License. All we had to do was check him out in the airplane. For the life of me though, I could not get him to land the plane safely – consistently. He had his random one or two good ones, and as soon as I thought “he’s good to go”, he pulled something out of nowhere.

Overshooting the runway. Undershooting the runway. Side-loading. Flaring high. Flaring late. Not flaring. Blasting down final at 90 knots. Blasting down final at 90 knots 500 feet too high. If there was something we didn’t do it was making it to the moon.

The key here is that it wasn’t his fault. Hence my frustration. He felt it was his fault. Hence his frustration. I felt like I had exhausted all possibilities, so finally, I told him to finish up with another instructor.

I hate not seeing things through. I’ve had students I’ve sent to another instructor for a couple lessons to iron out some un-ironable kinks, but never completely dumped a student.

Moral of the story? There’s still so much for ME to learn. There’s still so much for YOU to learn. Should I have fired him? Maybe, maybe not. But it was all I could do, with what was available to me, to help him progress at the time.

THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE TO LEARN – AND IT WILL USUALLY, IF NOT ALWAYS BE LEARNED IN OUR WEAKER MOMENTS.

So live up to those moments. Don’t let them fester but don’t forget them either.

But who am I to say it…you probably already knew it! Have you fired a student? What was one of your weaker moments and what did you learn from it?

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Flying into a Bad Decision

It doesn’t matter how good you are. Poor decisions will lead to poor results.

Ahh frustration…the deceiving villain that always seems to lurk in the recesses of the mind of a student pilot (pilots too I should say!)…Not very conducive to learning and it always seems to come up when you least expect it.

Weather had been holding my student and I back from completing our cross country for some time. Finally a day came that we thought we could get it done. Weather was reported to be fine, good VFR (Visual Flight Rules) weather.

About half an hour into our flight we came across an ever thickening layer of clouds. Perfect scenario.

“What should we do?”

I was no help. “What do you wanna to do?”

We contemplated back and forth but ultimately he made the right decision despite his desire to continue on. Did his mind let him believe that? Maybe the frustration, as it crept out from between the cracks, wanted to sabotage a perfectly sound decision.

I could tell he was feeling pretty down and I wanted to help cheer him up. “You want to do a little landing practice before we head in?” Like a little more frustration would help…I wish I could go back!

“Sure,” was the not so sure reply.

We changed course to an airport near our home base. 10,000 feet long. How can you go wrong?

  • We overshot final. Three times.
  • We did a go around. Twice.
  • We climbed out on go around 20 knots too fast. Every time.

This was my star student! What happened?… Well partially, I happened.

He was frustrated. I later found out he missed a gathering with friends the night before so he could make the flight at 7am. He had really wanted to go to the party. But that doesn’t matter. As an instructor it’s my job to tell when someone is just not ready for learning. This was bound to be “one of those days” from the moment he decided not to go out the night before. That part can’t be avoided. Had the clouds not been there we probably would have continued on not knowing how close the flight was to a mental disaster.

We flew back to our home airport as if someone had just died; Tip toeing our words around each other for the benefit of the other. No fun. If anything was learned we both learned how quickly things can go downhill.

There was a lot I did wrong on this flight.

  • While the weather reports pointed to good weather I failed to make sure my student was ready to go (as much as I could).
  • I took us from one frustrating event and put us in a situation that can often be the most frustration-producing …landing.
  • I overestimated my students abilities to cope with frustration.
  • I tried to make him feel better (at his expense)…

Remember, as an instructor it’s not our job to make a student “feel” better, it’s our job to show them what they did well and what they need work on. Positive is good but a healthy dose of reality is key. Most of all take responsibility when it’s due…I completely own up to the fact that I alone screwed up the remainder of the flight.

For the students out there:

  • Things will not always go your way, be prepared for it and realize that it’s not just you…and like everyone else you will need to keep working at it.
  • Don’t let frustration get to you, yes I know that’s why it’s frustration but don’t let it own you. Even once you have your license there will be frustrations and you’re going to need to be able to handle them…

Did I miss anything? Let me and everyone else know your thoughts! Comment below and you’ll be helping both me and others improve. Thanks!

Fly safely,

Up in the Air