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All members holding a Permanent Controller Rating of S1 or higher are invited to become an ATC mentor in VATSIM UK. The ATC Training Department depends almost entirely on willing volunteers giving up their time to pass on knowledge to upcoming controllers. As a mentor you will be conducting practical and theoretical sessions with students as they work towards their next rating, providing feedback that is recorded and available to the student throughout their journey. Mentoring in the UK is completely voluntary and the division is grateful for any time that a member can spend mentoring, no matter how small. Mentoring is, however, a privilege and not a right.
There are two prerequisites for ATC mentors in the UK:
Requirement number two may be waived at the discretion of the ATC Training Department. For example, a student who performs very strongly in an S3 exam may be invited to mentor on radar sooner, as consolodation at this point becomes a box ticking exercise. This requirement is also particularly pertinent to S1 rated members, as the S1 rating officially encompases no formal competencies. Hence, mentors with an S1 rating are those that have spent a considerable time controlling and are often working towards their S2 rating.
Your first mentoring session(s) at a particular level will be conducted in collaboration with a VATSIM UK Instructor. This is not a formal exam, it is simply a chance for an instructor to observe the mentor conducting a session, in order to help the mentor develop effective and efficient teaching style and methods. This provides mentors an opportunity to be guided as they begin teaching. Mentors returning after a significant period away from the network may be asked, at the discretion of the ATC Training Department, to have a supervised session on their return, to ensure that they are comfortable with any changes that have happened in the meantime.
At present, members may typically mentor in one of the primary Training Groups (TG1 and TG2) and additionally one of the remaining Training Groups (TGLL, TGNC, TGE). This policy is currently under review.
By becoming a mentor, you agree to the following terms, which are in place to ensure efficient training and fair treatment to students.
There is to be no preferential mentoring in VATSIM UK. Mentoring sessions should be accepted in the order in which they appear in the session requests list, for the position that you wish to mentor on, during the time period that you can mentor. Preferential mentoring, or specifically skipping particular students is not acceptable under any circumstances. If you feel that there is some impediment to you mentoring a particular student, you must raise this with Training Group staff immediately.
All mentoring sessions in VATSIM UK are completed along with a session report in the Central Training System. These reports, whilst they appear long, are not supposed to be exhaustive - you do not have to fill in every single box if there is nothing to say. At an APP and CTR level, it is common for half of the report to be empty as certain criteria wouldn't have been covered in that particular session. It is important that you balance out positive and negative comments wherever possible - there is nothing worse as a student than being bombarded by a wall of criticism. All mentoring reports must be completed within 72 hours of the session. This is essential so that students may see feedback on their performance and also so that future mentors may see your comments and structure their session accordingly. Training Group Staff will actively chase up any overdue mentoring reports, if for whatever reason you need extra time to fill in a report, please raise a ticket with ATC Training in the helpdesk.
There are a few practical considerations with regards to mentoring.
Information regarding mentoring callsigns may be found in VATSIM UK's Division Policy, which is available on the website downloads section.
Advertisements for mentoring sessions and specific requests may be made in this forum thread.
VATSIM provides the Sweatbox server - a simulation environment that allows mentors to generate specific traffic situations for a student. These may be geared towards practicing specific skills or handling higher-than-average workload. It is important that Sweatbox is not over-used. We are very fortunate in the UK to have a large number of movements into our airfields and we should therefore aim to utilise them. Morever, students also need to practice skills with pilots that aren't perfect in every way. Therefore, Sweatbox should be used sparingly, with the majority of sessions conducted on the live network.
There is no clear answer regarding how to structure a session, it depends on many factors. However, a popular method is to begin with a practical session on the network. Once this is complete, the mentor may wish to ask some theory questions (ideally, relevant to what has happened in the session) or go through some theory material and finally end with a short debrief, covering the main points of the session. In the event of a quiet session, it may be pertinent to do some of the theoretical element during the gaps in traffic, to keep the student engaged.
An important consideration when mentoring is when to interupt the student mid-flow to correct them or provide alternative advice - this can be detrimental as it can break the student's flow and have a negative effect further down the line. Unless there is an imminent safety concern, it can be beneficial to allow the situation to play out and see how/if the student resolves it themself. Also, when you do need to interrupt it may be beneficial to interrupt with a question, rather than a directive, which allows the student to find the answer themselves. For example, if the student has given an unsafe instruction, you may wish to challenge them with something like "Are you sure that instruction is safe?" to see if they reconsider and find the problem. Equally, at times it may be good (where appropriate) to challenge a student when everything is actually ok, to ensure that they are confident in what they are doing and can explain why everything is as it should be.
When a student is nearing an exam, they may be eligible for a solo validation on their exam position, in order to practice without mentor supervision. The minimum requirement for being awarded a solo validation is that the student must have achieved "Satisfactory" in all criteria on the mentoring report. If you feel that the student is ready for a solo validation, please open a ticket with ATC Training in the helpdesk. Ultimately, whilst these requests are usually honoured, there may be one or two instances where the request for a solo validation is declined, which is entirely at the discretion of the Training Group staff.
From time to time, an instructor may sit in on a mentoring session or review mentoring reports and give feedback to the mentor. This is entirely normal and is part of the division monitoring progression and standards of ATC training. It is appreciated if all mentors could accomodate this as far as practical.
If you are interested in mentoring in VATSIM UK, please open a ticket in the helpdesk, stating which Training Groups you would be interested in mentoring in.