Teaching is to instruct or train someone, or the profession of someone who teaches. Someone who teaches is, of course, a teacher or, for the purposes of this section, an instructor. Measured in number of people in the profession, teaching is one of the world’s largest professions. To be a teacher implies one has completed some type of formal training, has specialized knowledge, has been certified or validated in some way, and adheres to a set of standards of performance. Defining a “good instructor” has proven more elusive, but in The Essence of Good Teaching (1985), psychologist Stanford C. Ericksen wrote “good teachers select and organize worthwhile course material, lead students to encode and integrate this material in memorable form, ensure competence in the procedures and methods of a discipline, sustain intellectual curiosity, and promote how to learn independently.”
Essential Teaching Skills
Much research has been devoted to trying to discover what makes a “good” or effective instructor. This research has revealed that effective instructors come in many forms, but they generally possess four essential teaching skills: people skills, subject matter expertise, management skills, and assessment skills. [Figure 4-1]
People skills are the ability to interact, talk, understand, empathize, and connect with people. Effective instructors relate well to people. Communication, discussed in Category 3, Effective Communication, underlies people skills. It is important for instructors to remember:
- Technical knowledge is useless if the instructor fails to communicate it effectively.
- The two-way process of effective communication means actively listening to the student, as well as teaching him or her.
In the previous scenario, Bob uses the guided group discussion period to listen to his students discuss the weight and balance problem. By listening to their discussion and questions, he can pinpoint problem areas and explain them more fully during the review of the solved problem.
People skills also include the ability to interact respectfully with students, pick up when students are not following along, motivate students to learn, and adapt to the needs of the student when necessary. Another important people skill used by effective instructors is to challenge students intellectually while supporting their efforts to learn. Effective instructors also display enthusiasm for their subject matter and express themselves clearly. The willingness to look for ways to match student learning styles to personal instructional style is another element of effective instruction.
Subject Matter Expertise
A subject matter expert (SME) is a person who possesses a high level of expertise, knowledge, or skill in a particular area. For example, the instructor in the opening scenario is an aviation maintenance SME.
Effective instructors are not only knowledgeable about aviation, they are also knowledgeable about teaching. As mentioned earlier, possession of a high level of technical knowledge does not equate to the ability to teach it. An effective instructor possesses a strong motivation to teach, as well as a positive attitude toward learning. Research into how people learn has been ongoing for almost one hundred years. This handbook is a compilation of that research and is designed to help aviation instructors become experts in the field of education.
Effective instructors have a sincere interest in learning and professional growth. There are a number of professional development opportunities for aviation instructors, such as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seminars, industry conventions, professional organizations, and online classes. Networking with and observing other instructors to learn new strategies is also helpful. By being a lifelong learner, the aviation professional remains current in both aviation and education.
Management skills generally include the ability to plan, organize, lead, and supervise. For the effective instructor, these skills are reflected in the ability to plan, organize, and carry out a lesson. A well-planned lesson means the instructor is also practicing time management skills and ensures the time allocated for the lesson is well used. As discussed in Category 1, Human Behavior, the average age of aviation students is 34 years old. Unlike younger students, no law requires they attend school, they are paying for the training, and they expect the instructor to make wise use of their time.
To manage time well, it is important that an instructor look at the time available and plan how to use the time to achieve the lesson goals. An effective instructor understands what can be realistically achieved within the allotted time, makes the best use of the time available, allows enough time for what must be done, preserves contingency time to handle the unexpected, and minimizes stress by not planning too much for the allotted time.
Management skills also come into play for the aviation instructor who is teaching a class of students. For this instructor, effective management of the classroom promotes learning. Consider the opening scenario in which Bob arrived early for the class and ensured the classroom was well lit, the desks in order, and that the room presented a neat overall appearance. He also made sure the computer and projector were in working order. These steps contribute to a positive learning environment.
Another management skill that enhances the effectiveness of aviation instructors is supervision of the students. For the flight instructor, this may entail overseeing the preflight procedures. For the maintenance instructor, this may mean monitoring the replacement of a carburetor. While it is important to provide hands-on tasks in the lesson plan to engage students in active learning, it is also important to ensure the tasks are completed safely and correctly.
In Category 2, The Learning Process, learning was defined as “a change in the behavior of the learner as a result of experience. The behavior can be physical and overt, or it can be intellectual or attitudinal.” This change is measurable and therefore can be assessed.
Assessment of learning is a complex process and it is important to be clear about the purposes of the assessment. There are several points at which assessments can be made: before training, during training, and after training. Learning assessment is another important skill of an effective instructor. [Figure 4-2]