When you're a flight instructor, you're a combination shrink, drill sergeant, mother confessor and cheerleader; and, if you're a good instructor, you quickly realize that the act of instructing is teaching you more than you're teaching the student. Also, some of life's basic truths periodically come up to hit you in the face.
1 Death by starvation is more likely than crashing. Anyone who thinks he or she is going to live a normal life (house, car, two kids, picket fence, dog and two cats) while flight-instructing full time might benefit from a little reality check. The really big schools and flight universities, e.g., Embry-Riddle, pay a living wage, but many of the smaller schools are doing their best to survive, and generally pay by the flight hour. So, you have to really fly your brains out to live a "normal" life. Then you're too tired to enjoy it. This is one reason so many flight instructors are young and unmarried. It's a sad truth, but part of life.
2 Right Guard should hire CFIs as testers. An hour in the cockpit during the summer is almost guaranteed to break a major sweat, something the second student is definitely going to notice. Deodorant is cheap. Use it.
3 Kid gloves sometimes come in handy. When instructing some people, especially wildly successful professionals who may not be doing well in this new endeavor, the instructor has to walk a very fine line. We can't just blurt out that the airplane doesn't really care that they're wealthy and/or a huge success in their chosen field. Those students sometimes have a difficult time adjusting to the fact that their success in the civilian world doesn't automatically make them a better pilot. If that's the case, the instructor has to bring out his kid gloves while they're coming to grips with the new reality. This is where he learns how to be tactful.
4 A student's irrational fears are harder to overcome than his or her lack of skill. We see it all too often: A person wants badly to fly, but his or her apprehensions are getting in the way. Often, these apprehensions breed a lack of confidence that surfaces as an unwillingness to be captain of this three-dimensional ship. At this point, the instructor changes hats and becomes part shrink as he or she figures out how to motivate this student. After a few years of doing this, flight instructors should be allowed to hang out their psychologist shingle.
5 Every student needs a different instructional approach. Regardless of how hard some agencies and schools try to standardize and make all flight instruction the same, they can't actually do that as long as we're not flying standardized students. Students vary all over the block, and the first thing a good flight instructor does is determine a given student's learning style so the teaching approach can be tailored to match.
6 Every preflight should involve a pee. There should be a section in the AIM that explains the mag/bladder interconnect. It's a given that as soon as the mag switch is twisted over to the "start" position, the other pee factor will kick in. So, every instructor learns (or should learn) that, besides girding mentally to deal with a student, before leaving the terminal, it's also necessary to be preemptive in the urinary department. Or is that "pee-emptive"?
7 There's always more for the instructor to learn. Instructors go through phases. Generally, after 10 or 15 years of serious instructing involving hundreds of students, they come to believe that they've seen every variation of mistake possible. However, after around 20 years of instructing, they realize that they still learn something new almost every month, from either a student or the airplane. At this point, the instructor doesn't know if he or she is becoming more observant or the general level of student is getting worse. Either way, the instructor is seeing so many more things that need to be corrected and/or mentioned than before. This helps him or her to do a better job of instructing as every new event sparks growth in his or her instructing skills.
8 You learn how to really fly without realizing it. As an instructor, you actually fly very little. Most of your time is spent watching, talking, analyzing and waiting out students who have made a mistake, giving them time to correct it while giving yourself enough margin to save both of your bacon. Somewhere in that process, your mental and visual acuity increases until both are razor sharp. You know well ahead of time what's about to happen and find that, without realizing it, you've actually become a better pilot.
9 Recognize what the airplane is doing versus what the student is making it do. Airplanes would rather do the right thing, than the wrong thing. Nine times out of 10, when an instructor has to step in and straighten things out, the airplane has been bullied into a bad position by unknowing hands. At that point, the trick, as an instructor, is to keep from screaming, "Oh, my God!" and jerking the controls while browbeating the student. The challenge is to calmly explain to the student what he did wrong, and how not to do it again. It's also a challenge to be calm even though the pain from biting your lip is killing you.
10 You can't BS students. Students may not know that much about flying, but they know BS when they hear it. They all possess an innate sense that tells them when we're blowing smoke. No matter what information we present or how we do it, students know instantly whether we're firm in our knowledge or winging it in the hopes they won't notice. They can also smell when we're truly committed to their learning and when we're just logging time. In fact, they can easily tell when we've had a hard night and can hardly wait for the hop to be over. Our impatience shows through. And any instructor alive would be lying if he or she (we) didn't admit to having one of "those" days where we're watching the minute hand count down.
The world of the flight instructor can be comical, threatening, frustrating and irritating, but one thing it definitely isn't is boring. Regardless of how seemingly routine you expect a flight to be, between the forces of nature and the quirks built into the human brain, at any second, a gremlin could jump out of the aerial bushes ahead and spoil our entire day. Or week. The best part about those surprises, however, is that they become yet one more, "Wow, wait 'till you hear what happened today…" story for the bar.
And then there are the emails that say, "Thanks. You saved my life today. That thing you taught me about…" And that's when you know your time has been well invested.