I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with flying.
On the one hand, of course, flying certainly is time-efficient for getting to destinations. And it’s often a beautiful, awe-inspiring view from up there, isn’t it?
On the other hand, I’ve always been one of those ‘flying doubters’ who, trusted science notwithstanding, isn’t sure how those huge things get off the ground. I can’t always make a whole flight without seventeen irrational fears invading my thoughts. Looking down from a plane’s window is a curious mixture of majesty and discomfort.
The love and the hate butted heads in my 30s. I had read several of Richard Bach’s books. I was captured by his love of flying and that sky which is always perfect. (I still love those books.) I think that was the motivating factor, but for whatever reason, I decided to take flying lessons.
My flight instructor was a great guy and an accomplished pilot. He knew his stuff, and I liked him. But I had a tough time learning from him. Perhaps it was his style, perhaps it was my uncertainty – doesn’t matter. What would happen is that we’d be up there on the downwind leg (before turning twice to land), and he’d start rattling off a list of ‘things to do’. “OK, bring the speed down, trim the flaps, prepare to turn” and several other instructions which rapidly blended together into one blur of sound. I’d be doing one thing and miss two of the instructions. Some students take to flying instantly, but I wasn’t one of them.
It was then that I gained an appreciation of how hard it must be to teach flying to folks that don’t ‘take to it’ instantly. And it was then that I gained a fresher perspective of the teaching/learning dichotomy.
My perspective about learning came from the fact that, if I was going to do this, I wanted to by-gosh learn to fly, and not just ‘pass the test’. I wanted to know what I was doing. I wouldn’t have time to encounter a situation for which I would have to think “Ack, what was I supposed to do here?” (This came perilously close to happening once.)
And my new perspectives about teaching came, of course, from that fact that I taught a subject which – like flying- not everyone quickly takes to. (Did anyone compare my rattling-off-instructions description to their math classroom?)
How many of us still believe that teaching consists of providing a ‘here’s what to do’ list, and that all students successfully and naturally learn that way? (And, even if they ‘pass the test’, do they by-gosh know?)
Isn’t it interesting then, that in our system – at any level – a teacher routinely enters a class with some students who instantly take to the subject(s), and handfuls of others who don’t. Then, we and the system expect all those students to be equally challenged and to all end up at some ‘proficiency level’ at the same time. And we become worried if they don’t. This is especially true in my discipline for which the extremes of ‘drawn to’ and ‘repelled by’ are as varied as those of flying. It’s a huge challenge that we don’t always address too creatively. Several topics are still begging for more attention here, but I must close.
I eventually learned to fly. I survived all my solo hours and cross-country trips. Moreover, I learned lessons beyond ‘flying’. My experiences in the cockpit provided valuable insights that followed me into the classroom.