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Day One; Student One

Your first day at a new job can be exciting and terrifying at the same time.

As a newbie flight instructor, you ride that rollercoaster of emotions with an extra "first": you are assigned your first student pilot.

If you're anything like me, you've got a million thoughts running through your head as you prepare for that day.

Maybe you find yourself teaching in a different state than where you went to school. Maybe you will be teaching on a different type of aircraft than you trained on. Maybe the equipment and avionics inside the plane you've only ever experienced from the pages of a textbook.

Those maybes were my reality entering my first gig as a certified flight instructor. The four days of training flights I had been counting on were wasted sitting inside a classroom wishing for the rain, snow, sleet and winds to lighten up.

I had landed in a "Fake it till you make it." situation.

I found myself on day one, a brand new flight instructor, shaking the hand of an A&P mechanic a few years older than me, feeling way in over my head.

Below I've come up with a list of what I wish I would have known then.

I've created a to-do and to-not-do list that helped me navigate the turbulence surrounding my first two weeks as a flight instructor.

Keep in mind, everyone's situation and experience level is different. However, for me it boiled down to two subject areas: communication and organization.

There is no ONE way to become a successful flight instructor, or to handle those first two weeks, or to interact with that first student.

My goal is to provide you with a list of potentially helpful ideas as you begin your journey. Take what advice you want. Try it out so you can find what feels right for you!

What did NOT work for me:

  1. I was told to hide a few things: that I was new to Alaska and that I was a new instructor.

    1. My student could tell instantly I was not from Alaska as I called various waypoints by the wrong name and couldn't contain my giddiness at the scenery all around us.

    2. My first student was very technical and mechanically inclined and wanted detailed answers and quick. By trying to act like I'd been instructing for a while, I had set an expectation for him that wasn't fair to either of us.

  2. Walking in every day with my 2" thick binder of lesson plans and going over every lesson, in order, in detail, while stopping to answer every question.

  3. Hand holding. It's tempting. It means you care. It also drains you, quick.

What DID work for me (IE what I learned the hard way.):

  1. Prepare for that first day like you would a check ride.

    1. Dress up just a little. Do your hair. Wear your favorite socks. Know you look good and you'll feel good.

    2. EAT BREAKFAST. You'll probably miss lunch.

    3. Listen to your favorite pep talk podcast or playlist on the drive in. (And avoid drinking coffee if you're also driving a stick over windy, dirt roads.)

    4. Make sure you've got everything you need to fly... and now to teach. IE references that you found helpful, your laptop, and physical aids.

    5. Study the practice area, nearby airports, and flight service station frequencies. And make a cheat sheet for your knee board.

  2. If it's not already, download Foreflight on your phone because it has GPS and it's HELLA easy to sneak a peak at it while your student is practicing their scanning.

  3. After day 2, let your student do the pre-flight, weather briefing, and performance charts ALL ON THEIR OWN. Let them make the go / no-go decision. And you get to sleep in an extra 30 min. You're welcome.

  4. While I didn't admit to my student that he was my first ever, I did tell him I was new to Alaska and that I was a "relatively" new instructor. I asked him to be patient with me and explained, "I may not have all of the answers right away but I promise to be honest with you when you ask something I do not know and to work with you to find the answer together."

    1. Having that conversation with my student, reassured him I was dedicated to his success and also gave me the grace to not need to be perfect.

  5. I explained to my student, a mechanic who frequently worked on helicopters, that his knowledge of systems, in some aspects, was more in depth than what he'll need to know at the private pilot level and then what I knew myself. I taught him when to put his "pilot hat" on and when to put his "mechanic hat" on.

    1. I also asked if I could use this opportunity to learn more about systems from him. With that realization came respect, on both sides. We both parted ways having learned from someone we respected.

  6. I forced my student to take a lunch break, even when they insisted they had the energy to power on. This gave us both time to eat, slow down, and mentally prepare for our next flight.

  7. Organization is key.

    1. I spent time organizing my lessons into a format that flowed better FOR ME.

      1. I created a google docs sheet with 14 rows and 3 columns. I had a row per day of class time available and a column for ground, flight, and homework objectives.

      2. I calculated out how many hours of ground school and flying we could do per day to stay first within the school's limitations and second to fill the FAA minimums.

      3. I separated the ACS into categories: subjects that would require detailed explanations, and ones that could be quick look ups.

      4. I separated the larger topics into my ground school hours and made email templates I could send out for the quick bites as homework.

    2. I created a grab bag; something small that could hold my licenses, ipad, sunglasses, headset, power bar, and gum. You're student should be the only one fumbling to get organized inside the plane.

  8. Don't be afraid to look something up in front of your student. Being a good pilot isn't about knowing every answer, it's about knowing where to go to get the right answer. The same applies for an instructor.

  9. Don't stress that first landing, maneuver or whatever it is you were weak on during your own flight training. Chances are, your student is seeing this for the first time and doesn't know how to tell if you mess up anyway.

    1. Pro Tip- You'd be surprised at what you can do when you've only got one shot to make it work and you're the one controlling the pace. I can promise it will go better than you're expecting it to.

  10. Remember to have fun while flying!

    1. You chose to be here. So act like it... enjoy it!

I hope this helps you start your brand new, awesome, CFI job. Message me if you have more questions. And until the next time...

Remember to have fun while flying through this crazy thing called life.


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