Trouble Students

Good evening crew, I’m writing this topic to get some of your advice on instructing students who are having trouble progressing. I have around 100 Dual given time, and most of my students have been really great, but there is this one who is progressing really slow, and I mean almost questionably slow. We’re on lesson 5, and he still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of taxiing, after countless times of telling him the yoke won’t do anything for us on the ground, he still tries to move it like a car steering wheel which is throwing off his feet movements/coordination. That is just the beginning of the problems, there are a few others such as maintaining directional control that he is still lacking immensely in after doing several takeoffs. I just want some opinions on having students like this, and I wonder if I should let one of the more senior instructors take a flight or two with him to see where he’s at because I’ve almost run out of options to try and explain him some of the basics. Also he is an older gentleman, and I’ve noticed that students who are 50+ have a bit more trouble catching on than younger students in their 20s. I believe it’s too early to make the call, but also at what point do you tell someone that this might not be quite for you. Open to any responses, thanks -Derek


I would absolutely get someone else involved. While the student may in fact not be capable, sometimes it takes a different approach to break through. Another instructor might be able to touch on something you missed or simply have some technique you haven’t thought of. The hands on the yolk is a fairly common problem. I used to prohibit my students from touching the yoke until they got the idea.

Btw, at 100hrs I would caution you against making sweeping statements of who’s better at what based on age. The last thing you want to do is develop a bias and view your students through that type of lens.


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That’s very true, could just be that they have lived longer and have just been so used to driving for several decades that it’s even harder to break through the habit of having that steering wheel turning you on the ground. I told him from day one several times to not even touch the yoke on the ground (since there was no wind to correct for) but still goes back to doing it. Thanks for the advice though.


Best advice I can give is as the Instructor you need to figure out how to teach to his abilities. I would not be so quick to assume that he doesn’t have what it takes this early on.

Getting another Instructor involved is never a bad idea, even if a student is excelling.

I don’t recall where you are teaching, but at ATP, since the program is so fast, the syllabus took care of any students that couldn’t keep up. Rarely ever did a CFI have to make a judgment call. Students either passed their evaluations or they didn’t. If a student failed the same eval three times, they were done. If your school or syllabus doesn’t operate in a similar manner then obviously you’ll need to figure something else out.


Ok hang on a second, I incorrectly assumed you were instructing at ATP and your student was having issues keeping up with your program. If you’re teaching elsewhere it may be a very different situation.

The fact is that everyone learns differently and at different paces. How often is he training? Is it consistent or is he an occasional weekend warrior? Again if this were ATP and you were concerned he wasn’t going to meet a gate that’s one thing but if there’s not, simply move the gate. This is the reason some people earn their PPLs in 40hrs and others take 80. While not everyone can or should be an airline pilot or even successfully complete the ATP program, if someone takes more time to earn their PPL and that’s their goal what’s the harm? Perhaps you need to develop a little more patience? I’ll tell you one thing for certain. If I were the owner of the flight school and I had a new instructor who was questioning a students ability to succeed after 5 lessons I might be thinking I’ll keep the student and lose the instructor.


Regardless of where you work, a 2nd opinion is in order. Sometimes things just don’t click and a new teacher can make all the difference. And sometimes it doesn’t.

You don’t want to continue flying with someone who is not progressing after a significant amount of time. They will get very frustrated, blame you, and possibly think you are just using them for flight time. Try to give the basic info on what they need to practice with the other CFI without putting a bias in their head.
If they do well after a few flights great, evaluate if they will continue with yourself or another instructor. If they don’t progress, then it might be time to have a harder conversation.

Always document your students progress. Good record keeping comes in handy when hard conversation come up. Whether between the Student, Students parents, Lead instructor, or Flight school HR. Asking a senior instructor for guidance or 2nd opinion is always recommended.

For the Industry, the Public and the Student, it is important to give a student time to adjust (Bob Hoover suffered from air sickness when he was learning to fly) but also not shy away from discussing discontinuing training after a reasonable time with no progress. I have seen cases at multiple flight schools where students who should not be pilots are dragged along until they finally run out of money or somehow pass their “last checkride”. Some of these students go into $100k+ Debt and never fly for compensation, a few others skate by with as much as 400hr TT & half-a-dozen checkride failures who I wouldn’t want flying my plane.

A CFI is a teacher and must always make ethical decisions.

Chris F

It sounds like you absolutely should ask for another instructor to fly with your student. Sometimes you need to get another set of eyes on them, both for your learning (maybe you’re missing something) and for your student (maybe that instructor can say something different or communicate differently) to get through to them.
You’ll learn that no matter how good a CFI you develop to be, sometimes you just won’t click with a student and that’s okay. Everyone learns differently and you can’t have the key to unlocking every single one. Just do your absolute best to consistently adapt to the needs of your student and sometimes that means knowing when to look to others for help.
When it comes to taxiing, have them set the power on idle and have them put their hands in their lap. If they are really tempted, have them sit on their hands and you adjust the power as necessary so they can mentally detach the idea that they must have their hands on the yoke for control.


Thanks for the replies! No I’m not at ATP, I’m at a very laid back Part 61, which is in the process of getting approved for 141. He flies once, sometimes twice a week. Another problem might just be the lack of consistency because when he comes back half of the flight is relearning the stuff we did prior.

Could be a combination of things. 1-2 times per week is subpar. I wonder what his study habits are at home as well?


He retains a lot of the ground knowledge, it’s just the lack of applying it while we’re flying. I send him home with a lot of resources, and he’s got all the Gleim PPL resources as well. Im going to get him scheduled with another instructor to see what they both think and go from there.


I want to thank you for your post and believe this is a really important conversation, particularly for those who have gone through the program but don’t teach for ATP. ATP is actually fairly straightforward when you think about it. It was designed by airline pilots to train airline pilots. Virtually everyone in the program has the same goal AND everyone knows its either sink or swim. There’s very little room for middle ground. That however is not the case at many local flight schools. I’ll use myself as an example.

When I was 27 I decided I wanted to get my PPL. I had zero desire to fly for an airline (didn’t think it was possible) but was doing very well financially and thought it would be cool to get my license and fly the family. Maybe buy a small plane or whatever. I was extremely busy with my career and flying wasn’t even a hobby, it was simply a single item on my long list of boxes to check. Sometimes I was able to fly once or twice a week, others I wouldn’t fly for a month or longer. I rarely studied at home if ever, no chair flying, nada. It simply wasn’t a priority at the time. I think I did my first solo 3 times because the sign-off had expired. I wasn’t old, I wasn’t stupid, it simply wasn’t a priority at the time and if I had to repeat a lesson I was less than concerned, it was my money to spend. It actually took me 2yrs and I think 90hrs to earn my PPL. Now you might read that and think this guy has no business flying airplanes. Fast forward 10yrs. I was now 39 and decided I SERIOUSLY wanted to fly airplanes. I enrolled in ATP and completed the program in 87 days with no busts and mid 90 scores on all my writtens. I went on to become a Gold Seal instructor with ATP. Became a Capt and Instructor at ExpressJet and I’m now a Capt (and former Instructor) at a Major airline.

The moral of the story is our jobs as instructors are not to place OUR expectations on our students. It’s simply to keep them safe and help them on their journey as best we can. Your guy’s had 5 lessons and you’re a new instructor. Please understand Derek I’m not dissing you. Had my only experience been training with ATP I’d probably have the exact same concerns you have and you may even be right? But there could be something entirely different going on and I’d encourage you to speak with the student and see how he feels he’s doing? If he too is frustrated maybe you need to impress upon him the benefit of more training? He may agree, he may not and thinks he’s fine? I don’t know and you don’t either. These students aren’t just hours in your logbook, they’re people and we’re all different. Patience is a virtue and will ultimately make you a better pilot.




I actually had a very similar experience to you when I was a CFI. I would absolutely get another, more senior instructor involved. These sounds like pretty basic errors that this student should not be making. I personally think that you have an obligation to them to have another instructor fly with them and then, give them “the talk” if need be. I certainly would not tell somebody that this was not the career for them based off of just my opinion, but I would also try to stop them from wasting their money if it was clear that it was just never going to happen. Definitely reach out to another instructor and do so soon.