HOW TO WIN AT THE CFI DATING GAME
Meg Godlewski, eight-time Master CFI, Gold Seal Instructor, with more than 5,600 hours of instruction given
Learning to fly is filled with challenges. One of them is finding the flight instructor. Except for possibly picking a mate, choosing a flight instructor may be the most important interpersonal decision of your adult life. If you do not have the right instructor for you, the educational path will be rocky and marred with obstacles.
Begin by interviewing potential CFIs. What is the CFI's experience level? Can he or she provide the training you seek? Where do they see themselves in a year? This question is critical because, for many, flight instructing is transitory and used to build experience for other jobs. If the CFI plans to be gone in less than six months, it may be a bad match.
Ask the CFI to show you the sections in the Federal Aviation Regulations/Airman's Information Manual pertinent to the certificate or rating you seek. When you begin flight training you don't know what you don't know -- the CFI should be able to provide a reference for this information.
Insist on the use of a syllabus culled from the FARAIM and the FAA's Airman Certification Standards. The use of a syllabus keeps both the Learner and CFI on track and makes sure the training is to the level published in the ACS. The CFI should provide you with that copy of the syllabus so you know what will be covered when, and what you need to study before each flight and ground session. If the CFI is reluctant to use a syllabus, be wary. This often leads to meandering and therefore more expensive training.
Ask the CFI how the flight lessons will be structured. There should be some ground time known as a pre-brief where the CFI explains the lesson, followed by the flight, then the post-brief where the lesson is critiqued, the logbook filled out, and plans made for the next flight.
If the flight school has an Aviation Training Device, often called a simulator ask how it will be applied. If the CFI is reluctant to do ground sessions or does not know how to apply the ATD, move on.
If the CFI makes it past the ground interview, fly with them at least once to see if their teaching style matches your learning style. Most people are a combination of learning styles. Kinetic and visual learners, for example, learn best by watching an action being performed, then performing the action themselves. If the instructor does not explain what they are doing or cannot adapt to your learning style, find another CFI.
Scheduling is key. The CFI needs to be available when you are. Take responsibility for your training by telling the CFI exactly when you are available to fly, including the date and TIME, such as noon to 2 p.m., then verify you are on the schedule. For a working individual, flying three times a week up through your first solo, then at least twice a week afterward is a good pace. Flying too much is just as bad as not flying enough because you can burn out quickly.
Because there is often a high turnover rate at flight schools ask the CFI how he or she will help you transition to another CFI if and when the time comes. Often the replacement CFI will insist the Learner repeat training, allegedly because he/she doesn't know the Learner's skill set or proficiency level and can't vouch for what is in the Learner's logbook. A professional CFI will review your logbook, then have you fly a review lesson such as one consisting of the pre-solo maneuvers to determine where the soft spots, if any, are, then proceed from there.
A flight school that insists you repeat ALL of the previous training may be trying to pad the bill.
The Instructor needs to have good communication skills. If he or she just sits there during the flight and doesn't say much, how do you know if you are doing the task correctly? If you are doing something right, you should be told. If something needs to be corrected, you should be told that too, along with HOW to correct it.
Make sure the Instructor is capable of giving real-time, constructive feedback. Not all are. I was once tasked with evaluating the skills of a potential new-hire CFI. I played student, performing specialty takeoffs and landings. I intentionally came in too fast, too high, etc., to give the candidate a chance to 'teach' me. She said nothing during the flight. At the end of the flight, she told me 'you need to practice more', a statement that was about as helpful as a kickstand on a horse.
Communication is also important during ground sessions. If you answer 'I don't know' and the Instructor replies by staring at you in awkward silence, find another CFI. The CFI should not necessarily feed you the answers, but they should help you develop the skills to find them. "Let's see if we can find the answer in the FARAIM/Pilot's Operating Handbook," etc. to point you in the right direction. If the CFI doesn't seem to be able to use complete sentences or needs directions to come to a point, move on.
Ask about the CFI's first-time Learner pass rate. CFIs who have at least an 80% pass rate are eligible for the FAA's Gold Seal program. The CFIs must hold either an Advanced Ground Instructor or Instrument Ground Instructor certificate and have sent 10 applicants in a 24-month period and at least eight have passed on their first attempt.
It is a bonus to find a CFI who is committed to improving their teaching skills by adding more instructor certifications or by earning a Master Instructor certification from either the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) or the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE). Both organizations encourage instructors to continually pursue educational excellence. The Master designation is very similar to pursuing an Associate's degree every two years.
Expect to pay for both airplane rental and the CFI's time.
Your CFI should be clear on expectations, such as 'please read chapter X, Y, and Z before we do lesson whatever'. The CFI should let you know if YOUR expectations are not realistic -- like the zero-time pilot who expected to acquire their Private Pilot certificate in one weekend.
If you do not feel a connection with your instructor, it is okay to switch to someone else. The CFI has likely noticed the lack of connection as well, and no CFI wants to be paired up with a Learner they cannot reach. Don't feel bad about changing instructors, remember, this is about finding someone who can help you achieve your goals.
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Meg Godlewski is a Gold Seal flight instructor, an eight-time Master CFI, and an aviation journalist. When she is not teaching people to fly, Meg is the Chief Technical Writer for MzeroA, an online ground school. Meg also writes the “Ask the CFI” column for Aviation for Women magazine. Meg's specialty is getting rusty pilots back into the sky and scenario-based training using Redbird and One-G simulation technologies.
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