What I’ve learned as a CFI

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Have you ever felt underprepared for whatever job you got?

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Like you didn’t lie on your resume, you put in the work, you did the training and passed the same tests as everyone else, but still, you just don’t feel ready? As a CFI it seems even more terrifying because your student's life is literally in your hands as you teach them to fly. I felt like that for a good two weeks when I first started.

This job does come with a lot of responsibility. This is no small task. Here’s what I've learned in my first month as a CFI and helped me get through better:

You are going to forget stuff

Like stupid basic stuff. If your student asks you a question you don’t know, “I don’t know” is an appropriate answer. The law of primacy is a real thing, so don’t BS your way through something just to give them an answer and save yourself the embarrassment. A great idea is to look up the answer together so you can refresh yourself.

 

If you haven’t made your lesson plans, do it

This is another great way to make sure you don’t lose some of the basics. My school gave us out lines to follow instead of requiring us to make our own, which did the trick for the check ride, but as far as teaching your students you may need to make your own. I’m working through making my own now.

 

Never trust your student

Now I know this sounds bad, but I got this piece of advice from a former CFI now airline pilot. She said the moment you trust them they’re going to do something dangerous. I recently did this with a student. Wasn’t exactly in the “dangerous” category at least, but still a good lesson. He is already a pilot and owns his plane, but he just needs to get familiar with the plane and fly again before his flight review. I left him to do the preflight on his own and he left the master on with the fuel pump running for 15 or 20 minutes. I think he mistook the pump switch for the lights. He and I have never flown together, and I assumed he knew his airplane better. Whoops. At least it wasn’t anything worse! Always do a preflight after your student to make sure they didn’t miss anything.

 

Make sure your students feel comfortable enough with you to be honest if something doesn’t quite look right

They may see something that might be odd or off, but to save themselves the embarrassment (just in case it’s nothing) they don’t come to you and ask. If they ask you a question that might seem silly or obvious, it may not seem that way to them, so belittling them isa great way to make sure they don't ask you questions when they really need to.Be patient, and don’t be an arrogant jerk.

Stick to your own personal minimums

Some days your students are going to be gung-ho to fly. It might be clear and a million, but there might also be a stiff crosswind that you feel uncomfortable landing with. Your student may be pressuring you to fly, and maybe other instructors are still going flying too. Their minimums are not your minimums. It kind of feels like your mom saying, “well if your friends jumped off a cliff would you do it too”? Pride and ego can make you do something you wouldn’t normally consider doing because you’re eager to prove yourself. Trust that your minimums are going to change as you continue to fly and get more experience. Fly with another instructor in challenging conditions if you want to work on it! Just don’t go busting through your own minimums because everyone around you has more experience and different minimums.

Last but not least, don’t forget to check out SkyWatch for your insurance

It’s the only place you can buy CFI or renters insurance for a day, week, month, or year at a time. If you know you might be instructing short term, save yourself some money and purchase a month at a time. We’re CFIs, not Airbus captains. SkyWatch would also be great to recommend to your student so they don’t overpay for insurance. They only need it for solo flights so why pay for a whole year.

 

If you're planning on becoming a CFI, just know you’ll be learning as much as your students are, especially for the first several months. Be patient with your students, but don’t forget to be patient and kind to yourself. Sometimes it's a scary job, and you may get yourself into a scary situation. Breathe, and think your way through it. If you need time to process it, take the time to do that, and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again. Fly safe and fly smart out there, aviators.

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