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Instructional Burnout … Are You Feeling The Heat?

Posted 9 years 142 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

Any instructor having conducted significant hours of instruction has experienced instructional burnout. It's real, it's normal … and it's OK! The trick is to recognize when you’re experiencing burnout and have a plan to deal with it. If not dealt with appropriately, the student will often pay the price by receiving poor instruction, or worse, an instructor not fully engaged in the training event. A disengaged instructor is an unsafe instructor!

OK, it's traffic pattern 1,002 for the day. You're starting to see pink elephants dancing across the ramp and suddenly realize you can't remember what lesson you're teaching to the student sitting next to you. If you've been to this level of mental fatigue, you've let it get too far. This is how burnout starts, by pushing yourself to an unmanageable level of instructional production. If this only occurred periodically, that would be different. In flight instruction, this example represents the average day for the majority of instructors in our industry. But don't feel bad … we’ve all been there.

On several occasions when I was conducting night vision goggle (NVG) flight training, scheduling issues demanded a four-student flight load in a single night. I normally conduct no more than three flights of 1.5 hours each in a single night as a rule of thumb. By the time you pull pitch for that last flight, the importance of conducting a thorough risk analysis (RA) becomes critical. It is not uncommon to see the sun reaching for the horizon as you’re heading back to the ramp on that last flight. The RA does not reduce the fatigue factor being experienced by the crew. However, the RA does identify specific maneuvers and flight scenarios that should be avoided when high levels of fatigue are present.

So, we were discussing burnout, not fatigue. Well, one has much to do with the other. Flight instructors have a bad habit of beating themselves up with scheduling demands, and in many cases the flight school is pushing as well. Day-in and day-out you say the same thing, to the same people, in the same aircraft, at the same airport … and you feel it both physically and mentally.

If this is sounding familiar, listen up. You are a flight instructor and your product is the pilot you introduce to the industry. Every moment you're engaged with your student is critical to the development of their skills as an aviator. The way you deal with fatigue and burnout will most likely pass through to them. Discuss your fatigue and how you plan to address it. Conduct an RA and modify the lesson accordingly. And as for the burnout factor … mix it up. Engage with other instructors and school leadership to develop a plan to address your emotions.

Most importantly: NEVER allow instructional boredom to dictate your next maneuver! 

About Randy: Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award.  Randy is currently  Director of Training at Epic Helicopters in Ft. Worth, Texas.