Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Teaching a Brick Wall

I slept in this morning. Til 8. I think that's my record for the last 7-8 weeks. I was wound up enough about last night's flight, that I wasn't really ready to get to bed until about 1am.

Things like that tend to bug me. On some level, I believe I can get through to 99% of people, and I only have to figure out how. The real struggle I have though, is that my brain tends to work from within a basic logic structure. So my inclination- which is often completely wrong- is to appeal to logic and reason in order to engender a desired response from someone.

Mr. C- as I keep calling him- seems to always be in a hurry. When he set out to learn flying, he wanted to do everything as fast as possible, which simply doesn't work all the time. From the moment he arrives until the moment he leaves, he wants to cram as much as possible into the flight. That's fine, but he bases his assessment of how much we accomplished on the amount of time we flew.

Anyway, I spent a couple hours late last night trying to decide how to create the desired change in his behavior and thinking process. Frankly, I'm still at a loss. I can't be any more clear about what I want from him than I am already.

So I am beginning to wonder if we can even bother to move forward. We are stuck in a rut of flying around the local area, and practicing the same maneuvers over and over. I can't take him to Charlottesville to work on operations in a control tower environment, because he still doesn't understand the basics. Everything I say to the tower would go right over his head. We can't spend any significant time on navigation and practice landings at other airports, because he hasn't mastered the concept of the normal landing. He wouldn't have to be amazingly good at them, but he would have to have a grasp of how to do a pattern. We've been to a couple other airports already, and the entire idea is still beyond him.

I almost gave up on a student once before. I had conducted his introductory flight, then someone else flew with him from then on, for a long time. Several months later, I remember doing a ground instruction lesson with him on instrument navigation concepts. That was the last thing I taught before leaving the area to go pursue a helicopter license. A year later, I returned to teaching fixed-wing, and the first lesson I gave was to the same guy, doing the very same ground lesson we'd done a year before. In that year, he had learned nothing.

The other instructors had mostly already given up, and those that would fly with him didn't really hold much hope. I still did, but knew it would be a long trip. He had a couple things working against him. The former owner of the school, who still hung around as an instructor, was always telling him he was ok. Sugar-coating everything, and generally telling him he was doing fine. This was absolutely not true, and was one of the worst things he could have done to the guy.

The man could not navigate. At all. I'd watched in amazement, as he would get lost in perfect visibility, five miles from the airport where he had done all his training. No idea where he was. No sense of direction or distance. I thought we could work to overcome it, and told him what I expected of him. I put huge amounts of effort into him. I saw it as a project. If I could turn him into a proficient pilot, then I knew I would be accomplishing something. The former owner would go behind my back and mess up everything I was trying to accomplish. I was not about to endorse the guy for a solo cross-country flight, having watched him get lost every time we had ever left the traffic pattern.

He did eventually get a private license. I had already left the school by then. I was told by several people that he'd had a lucky day on the checkride, and somehow managed through, but he had never improved. In the months since then, I've spoken to him a little, and I think he is slowly learning. I don't know for sure, but maybe there is hope for him to become truly proficient.

Mr C. struggles for entirely different reasons. It isn't for lack of evaluation or consistent instruction that he struggles. I have to wonder how much of this stuff actually gets into his head on each lesson. It is far too early to give up on him though. I just hope to find some way to get through.


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