Her optimism and positive attitude had rubbed off, to the benefit of her students.
I reflected on how I had seen this paralleled in the adult world so very recently in my own trials, tribulations and -- ultimately -- celebrations as a student pilot… the vast majority of the three years I had been learning to fly was marred by anxiety and fear, largely due to the generally negative attitude of many directly involved in my flight training.
Not until the end of my journey towards the PPL flight test did I finally personally experience the power of optimism in the context of being a learner. The instructor who took on the final few weeks of my training was in general a very positive person, and although he was honest about the things I still needed to work on, he was also openly optimistic about the fact that I would pass my flight test. Only once did he lose his cool while we were flying together, crumpling a piece of paper he had been using into a ball, and throwing it into a corner of the cockpit in frustration when I once again made a mistake I had been making over and over again. But, like Karl Jung, he insisted the problem lay not with me, but rather with my previous teachers, whose responsibility he felt is should have been to find another way with me. (Again, no hard feelings towards my previous flight instructors; I learned good things from all of them, and knowing what I now know about how hard they have to work for their pathetically meagre wages -- most of the cost of the flight goes towards plane rental and flight school owner --, I’m not sure one could expect anything more from them than they gave me!) In any case, the combination of flying nearly daily during that time, and his sunny outlook on life in general and my upcoming flight test in particular helped me begin to feel for the first time as though I might actually be able to pull this thing off!!!
The day of my flight test was an interesting one, an experience I have already blogged about here and here. Again the high and positive expectations of the teacher (in this case, the examiner) had a very beneficial impact on my performance.
Because learning to fly had been such an emotionally dramatic experience for me, I was probably even more nervous than the average bear the day of my flight test. It made me appreciate first-hand how some of our students wrestle with crippling anxiety. I can only imagine how the EQAO results of some of my more anxious Grade 3s this past year were negatively affected by their own fear of failure. Even though I tried my best to prepare them for this week-long saga, and attempted to make the days of the event as pleasant and positive as possible, I don’t think I really understood until now how very serious test anxiety can be.
Despite my own fears of failure on the flight test, however, the ground portion went extremely well. I had over-prepared, and this was evident as I conversed about my flight plan and associated paperwork with the examiner before we set off to fly. But despite my over-preparation, I am utterly convinced that my success both on the ground and later on in the air was a direct result of the examiner’s positive attitude and high expectations: In spite of challenges like not enough sleep, too much test anxiety, and extreme temperatures that day, I was able to be successful because the examiner cheerfully demanded it. His manner was friendly and inviting, yet professional. He came across as being very organized, and eager to experience my success as a pilot. He put me at ease, and I felt like if I was ready and prepared, he would enable me to show it regardless of the environmental challenges of the day.
Once I had tasted his delight in my success during the ground portion of the test, my pride picked up the additional strength I needed: The examiner had seen me succeed, and I couldn’t let him down now, once we got into the plane! So as I sat beside this smiling fellow in the cockpit, I was able to muster up the courage to start the plane, and in so doing, to draw on all that I had learned, all that was within me to show off to the examiner. And although I didn’t perform every exercise to perfection, I did perform most of them very well, leaving only a few that needed some significant improvements, resulting in an overall pass of my flight test that day!!!
I know that with a more austere examiner, or one whose exterior façade was less positive, cheery, encouraging, I would not have performed as well as I did the day of my flight test. I know that with a different teacher, those students from the beginning of this blog post, too, would probably not have been as successful with reading and writing that year. As teachers, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to maximize student learning, despite the odds.
The research on this is clear: Set your expectations low, and the students will perform down to them. But set your expectations high, and students will live up them, too. Knowing this, I will choose to do the latter, and will do my best to continually check in with myself to ensure that I am setting those high expectations with a healthy dose of gentle, friendly encouragement, even when the odds seem insurmountable.
My gosh, if it worked for me, it’ll surely work for my students, lol!