Instructors by Michael Marotta

I took my first lesson on October 31, 1983 after seeing The Right Stuff. My next three lessons came a year later. Then the following October another lesson. Then nine years went by (where?) and I had two more. Since June 22 of this year, I have been up 10 times. In all, I have had nine instructors.

In January of 1984, I started teaching at Lansing Community College, first Intro to CAD/CAM and then technical writing and last an algebra class. In 1991, I got a job as a trainer and technical writer at Kawasaki Robotics. I now work as a technical writer and trainer for Carl Zeiss IMT, the industrial metrology division of the old German lens maker. When I was at KRI, I needed more background in shop floor operations, so I took an Intro class at LCC and when it came time to do a paper, I chose Training. It seemed like a piece of cake.

What a rude awakening!

The books on Training are no where near the books on Education in the library. I discovered Training Magazine and Lakewood Publications and the Society for Training and Development and much more as well. I wrote a couple of articles on training and along the way, I re-read Ayn Rand’s book on Epistemology several times. I pay a lot of attention to training.

Like the shopfloor and unlike the classroom, flight training has natural indicators. You cannot bullshit the pitot tube into giving you a couple of extra points when you need them. In a calculus or physics class, you can get a good grade even if you screw up the arithmetic. The airplane does not overlook screw ups in arithmetic. Flying is inherently self-regulating.

But there are still “good” instructors and “bad” instructors. No one tests these people on _epistemology_. Yet, you cannot teach a concept if you do not know what a concept is. What the instructor says when a student performs an action gets tied to the action — if it is repeated often enough in context. However, emotional intensity heightens retention of learning and student pilots are usually keyed up while flying. So, even though instruction is uneven, ragged, ineffective, pointless, useless or harmful, the physics of flying and the desire of the student pilot combine to produce success independent of the instructor.

The instructor is nothing more than a sophisticated autopilot.

In the future, the flight instructor will be the greatgrandchild of a windows Wizard dialog.

But a good instructor, or a bad instructor, does make a difference to the student. The experience of learning will be positive, just as a compass must align itself to the flux. Students find instructors who meet their intellectual and emotional needs.

Since people come in all flavors and charms, “bad” instructors flourish long enough to get the commercial jobs they really want. And that is the first controllable variable. An instructor with a day job in an office or shop may not have a flexible schedule, but will not leave you hanging when UPS calls. My current instructor, Randy Dippold, owns AirService Enterprise at Livingston County Airport. He is a natural mechanic who loves working on planes. He went back and got his instructor’s ticket when the other FBO closed and the field got short on teachers. He does not need the air time to get a job.

I get a lot of hooting and ribbing at work when I tell the other student pilots that I like big, blonde guys. But it is true. I find that short people have a lot to prove. (At 5’8″ = 145 cm anyone shorter than me is too short.) It’s the Napoleon Complex.

As a Sicilian, I see northerners as cold-blooded, and that trait is useful in an emergency. Men tend to have better self-esteem. My worst experience was with a short female who left being a commercial pilot to open her own school. She went back to hauling executives and freight.

I have had two good female instructors. The last was a national guard lieutenant. She had her head screwed on right and she commanded me easily and naturally because she was used to being obeyed as a matter of course. My current instructor is my age, has a few more kids, is doing well in life, has been there and done that. When he corrects my actions at the yoke, he pushes with an index finger. At 210 lbs to my 65 kg, he can take control of the plane any time.

He has infinite patience. We did a dozen take-offs and landings over three days and each time it was like I had never done one before and his tone of voice never changed and he told me the same things in the same words at the same time each time.

Eventually, I was able to write it down from memory and get it mostly right. I know that as an instructor, my tendency is to do something different if the student does not get it the first time and that might be good for some people and some tasks but learning to fly is not the same thing as programming a robot.

It is harder to get a job teaching children to use crayons than it is to become a Certified Flight Instructor. Four years of college, senior time as a student teacher being evaluated, and then a career of constant oversight, supervision, and review from the principals you work for. In industry, after every class, the students fill out some kind of evaluation which the instructor has to file with some kind of manager. In flight training, anyone who can fly can teach forever, good, bad or indifferent.

If enough students fail their checkrides, someone gets a heads- up, but usually, even the worst instructor will have enough good students to continue teaching until that cargo hauler calls.

Michael E. Marotta
Technical Writer