Aviation Instructor Responsibilities

The job of an aviation instructor is to transfer knowledge. Previous sections have discussed how people learn, the teaching process, and teaching methods. To summarize in brief, instructors help learners meet and exceed established standards. Instructors measure learner performance against those standards and give positive reinforcement along the way. [Figure 1]

Aviation Instructor Responsibilities
Figure 1. There are five main responsibilities of aviation instructors

Helping Learners

Learning should be an enjoyable experience. By making each lesson a pleasurable experience, the instructor helps the learner maintain a high level of motivation. This does not mean the instructor sacrifices standards of performance to make things easy. The learner experiences satisfaction by doing a good job or by meeting the challenge of a difficult task.

The idea that people need to be led to learning by making it easy is a fallacy. Though learners might initially be drawn to less difficult tasks, they ultimately devote more effort to activities that bring rewards. The use of standards, and measurement against standards, is key to helping learners. Meeting standards holds its own satisfaction for learners. People want to feel capable; they are proud of the successful achievement of difficult goals.

Learning should be interesting. Knowing the objective of each period of instruction gives meaning and interest to the learner, as well as the instructor. Not knowing lesson objectives often leads to confusion, disinterest, and uneasiness on the part of the learner.

Providing Adequate Instruction

To tailor his or her teaching technique to the learner, the flight instructor analyzes the learner’s personality, thinking, and ability. No two learners are alike, and a particular method of instruction may not be equally effective for all learners. The instructor talks with a learner at some length to learn about their background, interests, temperament, and way of thinking, and should be prepared to change his or her methods of instruction as the learner advances through successive stages of training.

An instructor who incorrectly analyzes a learner may find the instruction does not produce the desired results. For example, the instructor at first thinks the individual is not a quick learner because that learner is quiet and reserved. Such a learner may fail to act at the proper time due to lack of self-confidence, even though the situation is correctly understood. In this case, instruction is directed toward developing learner self-confidence, rather than drill on flight fundamentals. In another case, too much criticism may discourage a timid person, whereas brisk instruction may force a more diligent application to the learning task. A learner requiring more time to learn also requires instructional methods that combine tact, keen perception, and delicate handling. If such a learner receives too much help and encouragement, a feeling of incompetence may develop.

For learners who exhibit slow progress due to discouragement or lack of confidence, instructors should assign more easily attained goals. Before attempting a complex task, the instructor separates it into discrete elements, and the learner practices and becomes good at each element. For example, instruction in S-turns may begin with consideration for headings only. Elements of altitude control, drift correction, and coordination can be introduced one at a time. As the learner gains confidence and ability, goals are increased in difficulty.

Conversely, fast learners can also create challenges for the instructor. Because these learners make few mistakes, they may assume that the correction of errors is unimportant. Overconfidence may result, which leads to faulty performance. For these learners, the instructor constantly raises the standard of performance for each lesson, demanding greater effort. Individuals learn only if aware of their errors, and better retention of skills exists for learners who focus their attention on an analysis of their performance. On the other hand, deficiencies should not be invented solely for the learners’ benefit. Unfair criticism immediately destroys a learner's confidence in the instructor.

In some ways, an aviation instructor serves as a practical psychologist. As discussed in Human Behavior, and The Learning Process, an instructor can meet this responsibility by becoming familiar and conversant in the fundamentals of instructing and through a careful analysis of and continuing interest in learners.

Most new instructors tend to adopt the teaching methods used by their own instructors or the methods by which they themselves learn best. The fact that one has learned under a certain system of instruction does not mean that the best and most efficient learning occurred. The new instructor needs to remain open-minded and seek other resources and information to develop enhanced teaching ability.

Standards of Performance

An aviation instructor is responsible for training an applicant to established standards in all subject matter areas, procedures, and maneuvers included in the tasks within each area of operation in the appropriate Airman Certification (ACS)/Airman Practical Test Standards (PTS). It should be emphasized that the ACS/PTS book is a testing document, not a teaching document. [Figure 2]

Aviation Instructor Responsibilities
Figure 2. Acceptable standards in all subject matter areas, procedures, and maneuvers are included in the appropriate Airman Certification Standards (ACS)/Practical Test Standards (PTS)

Emphasizing the Positive

The way instructors conduct themselves and the attitudes they display make an impression on learners. An aviation instructor's ability to teach in a manner that gives learners a positive image of aviation contributes to the instructor's success. [Figure 3]

Aviation Instructor Responsibilities
Figure 3. Learners learn more when instruction is presented in a positive and professional manner

The Learning Process, emphasized that a negative self-concept inhibits the perceptual process, that fear adversely affects learner perceptions, that the feeling of being threatened limits the ability to perceive, and that negative motivation is not as effective as positive motivation. Merely knowing about these factors is not enough. Instructors need to detect these factors in their learners and strive to prevent negative feelings from undermining the instructional process.

Consider how the following negative scenarios conducted during the first lesson might adversely influence and turn off a new learner pilot who has limited or no aviation experience:
  • An indoctrination in preflight procedures with emphasis on the critical precautions taken before every flight because “…emergencies in flight can be caused by an improper preflight and are often disastrous.”
  • Instruction and hands-on training in the care taken in taxiing an airplane because “…if you go too fast, you lose directional control of the aircraft.”
  • Introduction and demonstration of stalls, because “… this is how so many people lose their lives in airplanes.”
  • Illustrating and demonstrating forced landings during the first lesson, because “…one should always be prepared to cope with a rope break in a glider.”

These new experiences might make the new learner wonder if learning to fly is a good idea.

In contrast, consider a first flight lesson in which the preflight inspection is presented to familiarize the learner with the aircraft and its components, and the flight is a perfectly normal one to a nearby airport, with return. Following the flight, the instructor can call the learner’s attention to the ease with which the trip was made in comparison with other modes of transportation, and the fact that no critical incidents were encountered or expected.

This does not mean stalls and emergency procedures should be omitted from training. It only illustrates the positive approach in which the learner does not receive overwhelming information. Using a syllabus that considers the learner's ability to comprehend new information means a foundation exists for that information. The introduction of emergency procedures after the learner has developed an acquaintance with normal operations is less likely to be discouraging and frightening, or to inhibit learning by the imposition of fear.

Nothing in aviation that demands that learners suffer as part of their instruction. Every effort should be made to ensure instruction is given under positive conditions that reinforce training. Instructors may provide flexible training and modify the method of instruction when learners have difficulty grasping a task. In essence, a learner’s failure to perform often results from an instructor’s inability to transfer the required information.

Emphasize the positive because positive instruction results in positive learning.

Minimizing Learner Frustration

Minimizing learner frustrations in the classroom, shop, or during flight training is an instructor’s responsibility. Instructors can encourage rather than discourage learning by following some basic rules.

For example, lesson plans used as part of an organized curriculum help the learner pilot measure training progress. Since most pilots don’t want to be learners, the ability to measure their progress or “see an end in sight” reduces frustration and increases pilot motivation. [Figure 4]

Aviation Instructor Responsibilities
Figure 4. These are practical ways to minimize learner frustration

Motivate learners—more can be gained from wanting to learn than from being forced to learn. Too often, learners do not realize how a particular lesson or course can help them reach an important goal. When learners can see the benefits and purpose of the lesson or course, their enjoyment and their efforts increase.

Keep learners informed—learners feel insecure when they do not know what is expected of them or what is going to happen to them. Instructors can minimize feelings of insecurity by telling learners what is expected of them and what they can expect in return. Instructors keep learners informed in various ways, including giving them an overview of the course, keeping them posted on their progress, and giving them adequate notice of examinations, assignments, or other requirements.

Approach learners as individuals—when instructors limit their thinking to the whole group without considering the individuals who make up that group, their efforts are directed at an average personality that really fits no one. Each group has its own personality that stems from the characteristics and interactions of its members. Each individual within the group has a unique personality.

Give credit when due—when learners do something extremely well, they normally expect their abilities and efforts to be noticed. Otherwise, they may become frustrated. Praise or credit from the instructor is usually ample reward and provides an incentive to do even better. Praise pays dividends in learner effort and achievement when deserved, but when given too freely, it becomes valueless.

Criticize constructively—although it is important to give praise and credit when deserved, it is equally important to identify mistakes and failures. It does not help to tell learners they have made errors and not provide explanations. If a learner has made an earnest effort but is told that the work is unsatisfactory, with no other explanation, frustration occurs. Errors cannot be corrected if they are not identified, and if they are not identified, they will probably be perpetuated through faulty practice. On the other hand, if the learner is briefed on the errors and is told how to correct them, progress can be made.

Be consistent—learners want to please their instructor. This is the same desire that influences much of the behavior of subordinates toward their superiors in industry and business. Naturally, learners have a keen interest in knowing what is required to please the instructor. If the same thing is acceptable one day and unacceptable the next, the learner becomes confused. The instructor’s philosophy and actions need to be consistent.

Admit errors—who expects an instructor to be perfect? The instructor can win the respect of learners by honestly acknowledging mistakes. If the instructor tries to cover up or bluff, learners sense it quickly. Such behavior tends to destroy learner confidence in the instructor. If in doubt about something, the instructor should admit it.

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