The Student-Instructor Bond

A positive relationship is essential for effective flight training.

Coast Flight Training

There has been a lot of talk this year about student retention and what flight schools can do to inspire their customers to keep flying. I think one of the most important aspects of this issue is the student-instructor relationship. Learning to fly is a very intimate experience requiring many hours in close quarters. In some airplanes, the instructor and student are almost attached at the shoulder. Without a positive bond between the instructor and student, success is going to be difficult to achieve.

Developing that bond doesn’t have to be difficult. The instructor and student already have something in common: a passion for flying. And while it is definitely worthwhile spending a few minutes checking in on each other’s private lives, there is always something to talk about when it comes to flying.

One way to strengthen the bond is through social media. At a minimum, you can become facebook friends. Public praise from an instructor through facebook or twitter at certain milestones (such as the first solo, solo cross country or passing the written test) is a quick, easy and free form of encouragement that can go a long way.

But as much as there needs to be friendship, there also needs to be respect. After all, this is a teacher-student relationship. While getting together for a postflight lunch, dinner or beer is a great way to bond, late night partying probably goes beyond the scope of an appropriate relationship.

I was fortunate to develop great relationships with almost all of my students. I still keep in contact with students I trained more than 10 years ago and several have become very close friends. Some of them still fly regularly. Some of them don’t. But their passion for flying is still as strong as our student-instructor bond.

I don’t believe that this bond can be forced. It has to come naturally. Every person has a different personality and nobody can expect to connect with everyone. I have recommended to a couple of students that they fly with a different instructor. I didn’t make the suggestion because I felt they couldn’t learn to fly, and I made that very clear to them. I didn’t want to discourage them from becoming pilots. I simply felt that those students and I were unable to create the bond necessary to achieve effective learning.

As an instructor, it is important to have the confidence of letting students go. If your student is not progressing, your teaching methods may not be the culprit. The lack of progress may simply be due to a personality clash. You would do your student a favor by stating, in a friendly and supportive way, that another instructor may be more successful at teaching him or her to fly.

And as a student, never be afraid to switch instructors. Any good instructor who has your best interest in mind will understand and support your decision. And if if the instructor isn't supportive, you can be certain you made the right decision to switch.