FLIGHT INSTRUCTORS, A VANISHING BREED
Almost every week we get a call from someone about coming to Bermuda High because there is a lack of instructors at that personís club. Weíre not talking about a lack of quality instructors but simply a lack of instructors. In the last member survey done by the SSA many expressed an interest in increased cross-country flying and more competition flying. However, there was a glaring lack of interest in becoming a flight instructor. Check the wanted ads in the back of Soaring magazine. Many commercial operators are advertising for flight instructors. Whatís happening? Where are the glider pilots who are willing to step forward and teach others to fly? Could it be that in todayís world of legal actions for anything and everything (Gee, I spilled coffee in my lap and it burned me Ė couldnít have been my fault.) that we are afraid we might get sued if our student has an accident? Maybe partially, but thatís not the complete answer.
Letís look at a typical club flight instructor. He/she normally flies just on weekends as the weekdays are occupied earning a living. Also, more likely than not, that person owns his/her own sailplane and would like to fly it some. This leaves mornings for teaching and then a rush to launch when the lift starts if he/she can finish his/her instructor responsibilities by then. These instructors are the lifeblood of any clubís growth and stability as without new students the club through normal attrition will actually shrink. And what does the club do to repay this valuable member. Normally, absolutely nothing. He/she is expected to teach for free for the good of the club. This is a person who has normally paid for his/her own training and is considered a highly trained pilot by the FAA. Now, it can be said that a lot of people do things for the club such as duty officer, safety officer, tow pilot, etc. However, most of these duties are once a month or once every two months is many clubs. Is that the same schedule you use for your instructors? Or like so many do you expect your instructors to teach every weekend? If so, then you and your club are one of the reasons we lack new people coming into the ranks of instructors and the reason many instructors are calling it quits. Many instructors get burned out - expected to work each weekend and given nothing for their efforts. If your clubs fits the typical club described above then you need to change. You canít expect just a few people to do most of the work. If your club does not fit the above description good for you. You have figured out how valuable your instructors are.
As for commercial operators, we have very few long-term professional instructors. Normally the people hired are low time instructors who are there only to build flying time and about the time you teach them what to do they move on to bigger and better positions. You canít blame them, as teaching is only a stepping stone to flying with the major airlines. Also, it should be said that many of these people are very professional and work very hard to be good instructors. However, nothing substitutes for experience. The big hope for commercial operators is to find instructors who are retired or who have a flexible work schedule and will be with you for many years.
So why be a flight instructor? The pay is low. Many clubs expect too much and offer nothing in return. Let me tell you. If is very gratifying and rewarding to see a student progress from a "groundling" to a good pilot under your guidance. Sometimes it is also very challenging. However, there is a tremendous personal pride and satisfaction in knowing that you are literally changing a personís life by teaching him/her to fly. And finally, it is just plain FUN to teach! Being an instructor is not for everyone, but if you think you might have "the right stuff" give it a try. You will love it and as an extra bonus it will make you a better pilot.
As for the SSA, we have not done a good job in giving instructor the recognition they deserve. However, we are changing that. This year at the annual convention we will be honoring some of our more productive SSA instructors. Additionally, the Soaring Safety Foundation is in the process of developing a program to annually recognize our best instructors. Finally, the SSA is implementing this year a "Master Instructor Program" that will give additional recognition and reward for instructors. Youíll hear more about this at the SSA National Convention. We have all been remiss in honoring and showing the proper appreciation for these VIP of the soaring community. Letís all change that now. Each club should devise its own method of saying thanks to your instructors. We all know that peer recognition in and of itself is a motivator. If we give instructors their just due, maybe we can entice more pilots to give it a try. You need them and the SSA needs them.
Fly Safely and Have Fun,
Bermuda High Soaring