|Knowing When To Say "NO" to a Student|
by Mike Turoff - firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the past 21 years of working with over a thousand students, I have had the pleasure of observing several of them go on to be better skydivers than myself. This is one of the greatest sources of personal fulfillment that I can achieve. However, there have also been a few cases where I've literally been terrified by a student doing something wrong. This is one of the worst things that can confront a JM or I in this sport. Fortunately, for both the students, my colleagues, and myself, no student that I've been associated with has paid the price of their life for doing something foolish. However, some have been carted off to the hospital with broken extremities.
A retrospective look at what has occurred over these past years may be a valuable tool to help others in this field gain insight into some "Go" and "No Go" decisions in allowing students access to our skies. It is for this purpose that I am writing this article, hoping that others may share in what I have learned and possibly be willing to bring forth their experiences to the table.
Any student who gets pressured into skydiving is a potential hazard to themselves and others. This goes for boyfriend/girlfriend and peer combinations. When someone states in a classroom setting that, "I'm here because so and so bet me that I couldn't/wouldn't do this...." the instructor must be very wary of that person's motivation for being at the DZ! It will be important to observe just how much that student really participates in the instructional process.
When a student is given a jump course as a present, that's a fine thing for them (financially speaking). However, the instructor must be wary of someone who accepts the present merely to appease the person giving the gift. If the recipient is genuinely interested in the training, there probably will not be a problem with the training or the jump. If the student acts aloof, disinterested, or seems to be easily distracted from the lessons at hand, consider that student a prime candidate for major problems in the sky.
A real strong "give-away" of identifying a student who was not paying close attention to the lessons is a lack of enthusiastic participation in practical training. When it comes time for the practical and written examinations of the students, there will always be minor differences in how a student perceives the training. A student that the instructor needs to be very concerned about is the one who has to be coached through more than 30 percent of the written test and 50 percent of the practical examinations. These practical examinations are usually in the hanging harness, demonstrating responses to simulated freefall and canopy problems.
Over the years, I have denied a few students the privilege of skydiving because my inner voice (the voice of reason) told me that this person just didn't have what it takes to make snap decisions necessary to save their life. Most of these occasions have been met with understanding and agreement by the student in question. Occasionally, I've had a student challenge my ability and authority to make such a decision. There should always be alternatives offered to the student to ensure that the decision is not based on personal bias. This is accomplished by referring the student to another competent instructor and allowing them to evaluate what the student has learned and how the student reacts to certain simulated situations.
Poor performance on written examinations should be examined for the reasons why the failure occurred. Sometimes it occurred because the student failed to understand the purpose of or the questions on the examination. Sometimes it was because of an inability to write intelligibly and at a reasonable comprehension level. (Yes, I have had some students who couldn't write a decent sentence but could verbalize the correct information to me, therefore they were able to "pass" the written exam.) With the use of "take home study sheets," I've found that students could do much better on a written exam the next day with a bit of rest from the hours in the classroom setting.
If a student continues to perform poorly on practice dive procedures, should you decide to take them up anyway because things will probably work themselves out? EMPHATICALLY NO! You should never allow yourself to fall into this potentially lethal trap! If no amount of practice will achieve an acceptable level of performance, then the student must be given an honest evaluation, not patronization. An alternative such as a Tandem skydive is a viable option where the student is under the constant control and supervision of a specifically trained instructor. The learning environment of the Tandem jump may be just what the student needs to assimilate some of the classroom information into survival skills. It may also be all the student needs to decide that once was enough and that routine skydiving is something beyond their personal limitations and/or desires.
If you have any personal doubts about a student's ability to perform, consult your colleagues on the matter. Don't take a student up into the air unless you can be reasonably sure that they will be able to perform to the degree necessary to come back to the ground safely. If a student is taken on a skydive and then proceeds to panic and had to be "rescued" by the instructor, much re-evaluation needs to be done by the student and the instructor(s) before allowing the student to return to the air (if at all)!
If you observe a student acting in a careless/reckless manner, it is your ethical obligation to talk to them and their instructor(s) about these actions. The hard task will be to get the student to openly admit to just how much of a misjudgment they made without belittling them. It is your task to educate and guide them to safer behaviors by offering them better and safer alternatives of action (such as landing well away from the obstacles and into the ground winds instead of towards the aircraft taxiing by the edge of the landing area with its prop(s) still going strong! (Yes, I've seen this happen, and the student didn't even think about the fact that the prop produces quite a bit of downwind turbulence until I brought it to their attention!)
Above all else, be true to your student and yourself. If you don't want that person in the air due to safety concerns, then make the decision to say "NO" to the student (as in, NO, they won't be allowed to make a skydive). After all, you will be the one who has to live with the consequences if you fail to say "NO" and something does go wrong. I'd rather be wrong many times and deny a student access to the sky than to be right just once and have the student go up anyway and do something to hurt themselves (or maybe worse).
Remember, there are always alternatives for students who don't perform well on the ground, and some of them may not involve skydiving. May all your and your student jumps be safe ones!
Mike Turoff is co-author (with Dan Poynter) of "Parachuting, The Skydivers Handbook", and numerous other publications, a instructor and tandem examiner, and a jump pilot.
More safety issues on pages