When I was working on most of my certificates and ratings, my mentor and Designated Examiner for the instrument, commercial, CFI and CFII rides was a man named JC Boylls. JC was, and is, the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met about all things regarding flight.
After we had completed my IFR check ride, JC said, “Have you ever thought about being a flight instructor? With your personality and passion for the sky, you’d be really good at it.”
At that point he hadn’t signed my temporary IFR ticket and I didn’t want to cause him to stop, but I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out, “Why would I want to make too little money and have total strangers try to kill me?”
He laughed and said, “Well, the money’s getting better … and they won’t kill you if you don’t let them.”
I laughed along with him, then told him “Thank you very much, but I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing and don’t want to become a flight instructor.”
Four months later we completed my commercial check ride and he asked me again about becoming an instructor and I replied as I had after my IFR ride. But then I began to think that you really don’t know a subject until you can teach it. I was working for King Schools at the time, helping to complete the Cessna Private Pilot course. I thought that if I actually became a flight instructor I’d have lots more knowledge about flying, become a more valuable employee and, perhaps, I would be able to ask for more money. So I decided to go after it. Ya’ wanna talk about studying? Hoy, whatta pain. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. The oral portion of the exam took nearly seven hours. To this day, I do not remember what happened on the flight test – all I know is that I’ve got an entry in my logbook that says I was a brand new flight instructor. It changed my life.
Since that day, September 30, 1998, I’ve had the time of my life. At age 50, I completely changed what I was doing and every single day since I’ve had a smile on my face. To date, no one has killed me, although a few have tried. And, as you’ll find out if you decide to fly with me, the money ain’t too bad. Doing what you love to do, and getting paid for it, is just about the most joyful thing you’ll ever experience in life. I feel sorry for people who hate what they do. If you’re fortunate enough to love your work, it isn’t work, it’s fun. I’ve been having fun ever since.
The training process:
So, what’s involved? Well, on your part, a lot of hard work is involved. On my part, I get to sit and listen to you teach me lessons I’ve taught for over fifteen years – and comment and criticize. The topics are all outlined in the CFI Practical Test Standards and in order for me to sign you off for your practical test, you must demonstrate “Instructor knowledge” in each of the topics.
It can be daunting. You cannot study from one text book because there are so many from which to choose and so many have different interpretations on concepts that are, oftentimes, difficult to comprehend – let along understand and teach. I owned all the major flight training manuals, owned all of the FAA-generated manuals and studied everything I could get my hands on.
There are two knowledge exams that you must pass. The FOI, or Fundamentals of Instruction, is one which purports to teach you how people learn. It’s interesting that the highest level of learning is “correlation”, yet you study the FOI at the lowest level, “rote” memorization. The second is, of course, the CFI knowledge exam. Neither exam is particularly daunting.
The flight test is the easy part of the practical test. Basically, you fly all of the commercial maneuvers from the right seat, while talking about them. By this stage in your flying career, the flying part should be easy. It’s the oral that is the torturous part. You must be able to discuss any topic in any flight training curriculum with knowledge, understanding an insight – and you must present all that to someone who has more knowledge, understanding and insight than you may ever achieve.
My oral took seven hours. I was so emotionally drained at the end of the oral that I cannot remember what happened on the flight test. The only way that I know I flew was the entry in my log book signed by the examiner. I was exhausted.
Yet, once you pass your CFI ride an entire world opens to you. Your first student comes to you with all the hope and excitement you had when you were brand new – and that student hangs on your every word as if it were carved in stone. The danger is that the trust your first students place in you is so profound, that you feel as though you’re letting them down if you don’t have every answer to every question at your fingertips. And, when you don’t, the temptation is to bluff.
And if you do … the results could be tragic. A wrong answer to a question of safety could lead to a wrong decision made by that student in the air – and wrong decisions based on bluffed answers in critical situations could lead to unhappy results. If, as an instructor, you don’t know the answer to a question – no matter how that may impact your trusting student – you must tell the student that you don’t have the answer, and that you and he will find it together.
The things you learn about teaching – and the things you learn about yourself – are profound. There is not a student with whom I’ve flown who has not taught me something valuable – and what you’ve taught them will stay with them for life. Flight instruction is a life-changing experience for both the student and the instructor, and it’s why I awaken every day with a smile on my face because, as you come to learn, every day is a good day when you learn something.