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Final Word
by Jo Salter

My Life is unfolding through cycles of education. Starting as a pupil; passing through vague years as an undergraduate; training as a fighter pilot in the RAF; and working hard as a postgraduate while juggling work and family life. The greatest reward of learning for me has been the subsequent opportunity to pass knowledge on to others: the thrill of being a flying instructor and the satisfying work as a management lecturer. Now I have come full circle as the mother of a primary school daughter (who talks about her teacher with pure adoration) and the cycle starts again. I have travelled the world and my daughter attends the same primary school I attended 32 years ago.

When I started flying training, I didn't pass my first test flight. The flying training system selects by aptitude tests; trainee pilots need to learn quickly. There isn't the budget to give too many flying hours to someone who is struggling. It is all about learning through capacity. A failed test flight means remedial training of two extra sorties to put it right, otherwise the trainee is chopped (the sympathetic term used to remove someone from the course). I failed to go solo at the right time on the Chipmunk, a propeller-driven taildragger. Along with remedial training comes a change in instructor. My new instructor was a rather laid-back Australian with a completely different approach to teaching someone to fly than I had experienced previously. I understood the way he explained the concepts to me and I went solo after those two extra sorties. What a difference that teacher made to my future. Learning to fly requires a variety of teaching methods. Classroom-based theoretical ground school, survival training in the cold outdoors, emergency checklists that need to be learned by rote - to be word perfect without fail - simulator flights, and, of course, flying itself within those precious allocated hours.

But can you effectively practise flying without being airborne? I used to walk around, rehearsing the checks, the switch positions, the radio calls - running circuits in my bedroom, plotting air defence tactics across a field, circling dogfights on bikes, even flying formation in my sleep. Rehearsal builds muscles in the brain and the brain remembers this much more effectively when flying and operating an aircraft. It is the beginning of an automated sequence where pilots react without thinking - essential for rapid decision-making at life-threatening moments. But how does this relate to a more down-to-earth environment? As a teacher I employ the same lessons that I learnt as a student: I rehearse and visualise - how I am going to stand and how I am going to use my body language in order to convey my message. The spoken word is only part of how we teach. We have all experienced the flat teacher, the one who seems to no longer be there, whose energy has disappeared and whose presence is blurred. These are not the lessons you remember.

Teaching is in itself a learning process, and learning energises, hence the best teachers are those who are still learning. When I was younger I looked forward to the day that I would leave learning behind and become learned. I now know that this is neither possible nor desirable. Every day that I drop my daughter off at school, I see no ghosts, only endless possibilities.

Jo Salter was the first female fast jet pilot in Britain. Ex-fighter pilot, lecturer and mother… Jo Salter believes that the processes of teaching and learning are inextricably intertwined and that the best teachers are those that are still learning.

Copyright Jo Salter. All Rights Reserved.

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