Thursday, September 11, 2008


I had Flight Lesson Number One with a student today, and it got me thinking. I know a lot of pilots who are burned out on aviation. This is not the same as being burned out on flying, but the former can easily become the latter. One friend has it so bad that his new goal is to work as an FAA inspector. But this student was overflowing with enthusiasm. That seems to be the antidote.

Whatever the occupation, people burn out on it. Teachers and health workers are particularly susceptible. I had an early lesson on this when I was in graduate school. A few of us were sitting around one evening with John Wermer, a very nice man, a gracious host, and one of the leading mathematicians of his generation. We were grading calculus exams. He said, "You know, I have been teaching calculus for 30 years, and I learn something new every year." I adopted that attitude on the spot. And now that I have been teaching calculus for 30 years, I can make the same claim.

Pilots and academics share the attitude that teaching is somehow below them, that it is something that one does because it is required. At the extreme end, I know one pilot who got his jet job, and as soon as his last student was finished, he nailed his Instructor certificate to a fence post and blasted it to smithereens with a .22 rifle. And I remember at least one prominent academic announcing "No undergraduate has ever written a paper that it was worth my time to read." You get the idea.

But the sad thing is that teaching is not a step down; it is a step up. Teaching exposes you to people like this morning's students (both math and flying), who were so full of enthusiasm and the pleasure of learning something new.

Enthusiasm, like gloom, is contagious. Choose wisely which one you share.

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