Lessons Learned as a New CFI


Vocals, Lyrics, Triangle, Washboard, Kittens
Been meaning to write this for a while. Finally jotted it down...

It’s been about a year and around 200 hours of dual-given - I’m a part-timer so I don’t fly nearly as much as the full time guys. I’ve been lucky to have some outstanding mentors - some here on JC and some in my flight school. For those of you pursuing CFI - here’s some things I’ve learned in the first 200 hours. I’m *still* learning new things, every single day.

Each Student Is Different. Act Accordingly - you have to be a chameleon, blending into the right context that the student needs to learn from you. Some need and want you to be clinical, distant and exacting. Others need you to be more of a buddy. Your job is to figure out what they need from you to learn. You may not be able to do this, especially right away. And that’s okay. If they want to fly with another instructor because they get along better with someone else, that’s perfectly fine. There will be plenty of others who come to you for the same reason. Be who you are, play to your strengths and that will ultimately be better for you and your student.

You Will Make Mistakes. Own them. - Students, like small children, pick up on a lot of stuff, even if they don’t say anything. If you goof, swallow your pride and tell them you goofed, tell them *how* and *why* you goofed, and then fix the situation. I had a couple of really embarrassing gaffes in the first couple of months, one of which led to a lengthy discussion and lesson about situational awareness and the tools we use to maintain it. Ended up being a great lesson I’ve since used with others. Your mistakes are outstanding opportunities to teach.

Be Opportunistic - When the weather turns sour, it’s time for a lesson on Wx. When the winds are strong and gusty, use that to do ground reference maneuvers. Got a discrepancy with the paperwork on the airplane? Let’s go ahead and look at logbooks and inspections too. Use the situation you have to teach something meaningful. The student doesn’t know what’s important and what isn’t, and they’re delighted when you give them something real and practical - especially if you can use it to break up the routine.

Your Students Will Do Exactly What You Tell Them To - especially your newbies. If you give an instruction and the outcome is unexpected, then you either weren’t clear with the instruction or the student has some barrier that you need to address before the instruction is clear to them. This is *especially* true of your students who may be thinking in one language and translating to the language you’re teaching in. In my case, English.

Your Students Will Do What You Do - they will notice if you go flying without checking weather or NOTAMs. They will notice if you blow off a piece of broken equipment…even if it’s legitimately deferred, they should understand why. If you find yourself about to do something like skip a checklist, stop and ask yourself if you want your student doing the same thing. Because they absolutely will.

“I don’t like Stalls/Right Hand Patterns/Ground Reference” - is code for “I need help with understanding and working on this….” - if there is anxiety or stress related to a specific task, it’s time to go back to your fundamentals and train the aversion out of the student.

Training Airplanes Break. Know the FARs - you should know the flow of how to determine what equipment can and cannot be deferred, how to handle it, and more importantly, how to explain the process to your student. You may have resources to ask - your Chief, other instructors - but you ultimately make the decisions. This simultaneously protects your certificates and teaches the student proper decision making.

Listen To The Little Voice - if the Little Voice says your student is ready, listen to it. If the voice says “nope, don’t solo them” then don’t. Unsure? Go over it with a more experienced instructor. You’ll find usually the voice is right.

You Are Redefining Someone’s Image Of Themselves - take it seriously - they may forget old loves and distant relatives, but they will never forget the things you say and do to teach them. You wield far more power to shape them than you realize - wield it gently. A little coaching, patience and encouragement go a long way. Heaps of praise when they do something good is mandatory. Quiet coaching and correction when they’re not.

I could write thousands of words more, but these are the most significant things that come to mind right now.


Great and Unmatched Wisdom
Reading this alone tells me that you are damn good at this. These are the skills people are talking about developing when they speak about how valuable it is to instruct. Basically CRM in a nutshell.

Crop Duster

E pluribus unum
Good Stuff! @killbilly
Ditto what @Screaming_Emu said.
More here...


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Well-Known Member
All excellent points! I have the feeling based on what you wrote, that you are an above average CFI. The industry needs more instructors like you that are always striving for excellence.

Unfortunately many flight schools don't support good instructors, and don't encourage and promote good instruction. It's a shame. They like that revolving door to push CFI's out, then bring in new ones, all the while paying poverty wages. It's an outdated model that needs to go in opinion. The flight school I used to work at was very shady. They encouraged CFI's to go fly broken airplanes, do the minimum required to get a student ready for a checkride, and worst of all, in my opinion, was they didn't create of welcoming environment for prospective students as well as new students beginning training. They had ZERO customer service skills, so I had to make up for that. I can't even begin to describe the amount of unprofessional things I saw and dealt with there. So knowing that, means you will often times have to showcase your customer service skills as well, because it's a business after all. All too often I see too many instructors who forget that and don't realize it's a JOB after all. They treat it like a hobby and forget that their student is a paying customer, and not only that, but they're paying a crap ton of money.

Professionalism can be seriously lacking at many shops. I've picked up many students who came from other flight schools and some of the stories I've heard about their CFI's and flight school staff is appalling. Stuff you could never get away with if it were any other type of business. This is why I'm very glad to have experience working outside of the aviation industry before I started flight instructing. It gave me perspective!

Flight schools are often times run by people with MASSIVE ego's and don't know the first thing about running a business. In my opinion flight schools shouldn't be run by pilots and instructors, but that's just me. I'm now working for a shop that is above and beyond professional and is a rare place to be as an instructor pilot. Extremely grateful for where I ended up. Sometimes I look back at my first CFI job and think it was all a dream and never really happened. There is such a stark difference between both places that there is no comparison. It was the worst job I've ever had.

The only real way to improve the flight training industry and make it more welcoming and positive for newcomers, and particularly struggling students, is to start with the individual CFI, and how we train the CFI candidate. The example you show to your students, and even CFI candidates, if you get any of those students, is a good start. It all boils down to the attitude of the CFI, how they approach the job, and having some integrity. Without that, nothing else matters. All too often I've seen CFI's display a poor attitude for their students, ZERO customer service, little enthusiasm for teaching, little patience, and just an overall poor representation of the flight training industry in general. I wish this weren't the case, but have been my experiences when I was a student, as well as when I was a CFI at my first aviation job. I hope it improves, glad to have people like you teaching!
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Active Member
KillBilly, I just started my first week on the job, and everything you said has been immensely helpful. I've seen the exact things you're talking about, and questioned how to handle myriad situations. This is a super challenging job, and I really appreciate you sharing your experiences and insights to maybe help out the new guys.