Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
The Right Stuff

July 29, 2009  By Roger Beebe

There are two types of instructors – those who use the job as a way of building hours towards higher licences (logging PIC time) and those who remain as instructors and view it as a full-time, rewarding career.

There are two types of instructors – those who use the job as a way of building hours towards higher licences (logging PIC time) and those who remain as instructors and view it as a full-time, rewarding career.

Flying instructors are fortunate because their students are already keen to learn.

There’s nothing wrong with being one or the other and both have the responsibility of ensuring that their future pilots are trained properly. It is a very rewarding experience to see the light come on in someone’s eyes, and to realize that it was your explanation that did it.

Instructing is something that can be learnt successfully, but some people have a natural talent for it. As in other walks of life, the most important ingredient to start with is enthusiasm. If you are not motivated, you can’t expect your students to be.


As it happens, flying instructors are fortunate because their students are already keen to learn. They have taken the trouble to seek out a flying club and to join a class. And, most of the training is one-to-one, except when teaching ground subjects in a group. Contrast that with schoolteachers who have to deal with large classes consisting mostly of pupils who basically don’t want to be there.

Here are some tips to consider:

Your Personality
You must be polite and respectful. Your students are just as intelligent as you – they just don’t know what you are about to tell them. Remember that you are not there to show them how much you know, but to teach it to them.

The Environment

Think back to your own school days. Remember all those distractions that stopped you listening to the teacher? Enough said!

But Why?
It’s a great help to explain why some subjects are being taught and to show how they fit into the greater scheme of things. Relate the subject matter to your students’experiences.

Right the First Time
Don’t teach something, and change it later. Whatever you teach must be done right the first time, because that’s the impression that sticks in the student’s mind. If you’ve ever taught anyone to use a computer, you will know exactly what I mean. Unless the screen icon is exactly where it was last time, they get confused. It’s your responsibility to rehearse your lessons and demonstrations until they are perfect. Then you have to monitor your students to make sure they do it right as well. Don’t allow them to make mistakes as they will grow into bad habits, and their future training captains will be after you.

Logical Progression
The components of a lesson should be in a logical sequence, preferably with a link between one section and another. If you listen to radio broadcasters, you will realize that they try to segue each subject they talk about as seamlessly as possible. In fact, it is a matter of professional pride to be able to take widely differing subjects and still produce a link between them, however unlikely. It isn’t a hard skill to learn.

Mental processes are reinforced by physical means. It used to be the custom to take the young lads of an English village around its boundaries and beat them to make sure they knew where they were. I’m not suggesting that you should beat your students (well . . .), but it does make the point. If you can, reinforce your material with a physical exercise. If you have been talking about map reading, for example, have them draw what they think they will see along the track of a proposed navigation exercise. Then compare it on a real trip.

Here’s another thing to consider: Just because you are teaching aviation matters, you shouldn’t be shy to use examples from other walks of life to reinforce a particular point. For instance, when teaching people to use a word processor, I often use my aviation experience as part of the lesson: The most dramatic method I use is to have them type a few pages of text, then pull the plug on the power supply, ensuring that they lose all their work. This “practice engine failure” is most instrumental in emphasizing the importance of saving regularly. You could do the same in a non-threatening aviation situation. You need to do something that is drastic enough to gain their attention, but will not be dangerous.

The Feel-Good Factor

This involves making people feel good about themselves as an aid to learning. This can mainly be accomplished by concentrating on the positive; although this certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t point out their mistakes. Children with learning difficulties, for instance, are often taken swimming, something they can do well, to reinforce their self-image and encourage them with the more challenging aspects of their lives. If one of your students is having a problem, change the subject for a short while to something he or she excels at, then come back. Always point out what the student has done well before mentioning what he or she has done wrong. When pointing out mistakes, do so in the most positive manner possible.

In the Classroom
Standing up in front of a lot of people and potentially making a fool of yourself is a difficult fear to overcome. You put yourself in danger when you are unsure of what you are going to say, so the obvious strategy is to know your subject thoroughly.

Remember that the students are there because they think they are going to learn something. They therefore credit you with knowledge and wisdom (yeah, right) and will wait for you to call the shots. They are not going to get critical of you (well, not straightaway, at least) because, so far, they know less than you do. Therefore, the advantage is on your side, at least in the early stages.

To reinforce this, you have to create a credible image. This means not hesitating over your words and reducing your mannerisms as much as possible. Luckily, video cameras are cheap these days, and a good ploy is to set one up and tape yourself giving a lecture on something. Watch your hands, and your body language. Listen to what you are saying. Embarrassing, isn’t it? Although your first instinct will naturally be to throw the tape away, use it to polish your performance and be the best instructor you can possibly be.

One thing you will definitely notice on your training video is that you will be speaking too quickly, even though it doesn’t feel like it. Learn to slow down if it’s too slow for you, then it’s probably about right for the students. You can also use pauses to good effect. Wait for your audience before starting to speak. Eventually they will settle down and be in the mood to listen.

The point is that you have a certain degree of control over the lesson by default, so make use of it. When addressing the class, always use eye contact. You don’t have to look at the same people every time, and nor do you have to stare anyone down – just look at them briefly as you speak, choosing students at random. If you don’t know the answer to a question, here is what you say: “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I will find out and let you know afterwards or at the next lesson.” Do not bluff, and always come back with the answer.

In Flight
In-flight time costs money, so every effort should be made to gain the maximum from every moment – even if you’re in a queue for takeoff, something can be done. If you have sideways flight in a helicopter to review, there’s no reason it couldn’t be done on the way to the
takeoff point.

Lesson Plans
Your average murder mystery starts with an attention-grabbing situation, then various avenues are explored, the whole thing is looked at from different angles, and the clever detective gets everyone together and sums it all up. Lesson plans are the same.

Give the students a quick overview of what you’re going to cover, followed by the material itself, then a summary of the salient points or, in other words, an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion, so the material is heard three times, which is the accepted number for making sure something gets into your subconscious (have you ever noticed how telephone numbers in adverts are repeated three times?) Put yet another way: Tell them what your going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.

The opening statement of your lesson is what gets your students’ attention in the first place. It needs to be something that they want to know the answer to, and will therefore be prepared to sit through the lesson to find out. Newspaper headlines generally run between five and eight words, followed by a very good first paragraph. You can afford to spend some time on this, because you are going to use the same stuff for your instructing career anyway. “Your first ten words are more important than the next ten thousand.” (Elmer Wheeler, salesman)

Don’t forget to review the lesson, and never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to!


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