The driver's license. A rite of passage for some, but an increasingly terrifying challenge for others. Today's student, what with the cost of driving a car, is more likely than any other time in history to opt out of having a car. Further, with apps like Uber available, there is less of a need. Increasingly, students are waiting until they are older until they get a job, but not having a license has a cost.
My job as a driver’s ed instructor was my favorite job as an educator. People seem to think I’ve lost my marbles when I say that, but it’s true. I had a thirty-year career as an educator. My first position was as a career education instruction at a vocational school. The position with the longest tenure was as an 8th grade science teacher at an affluent suburban school. It paid well and had great benefits, but the staff was no more mature than the students I was working with. Eventually, after a period of unemployment, I was hired as a driver’s education instructor. It seemed to be a job I was born to do.
I took my job very seriously. I had developed four lessons: the country road lesson, the maneuverability lesson, the “errands” lesson, and the highway lesson. The highway lesson as you can imagine was far and away the scariest part of any job I have ever done. Having a fifteen-and-a-half year-old drive a 2,000 pound vehicle down a highway at 65 miles per hour is quite terrifying, which is why it was the last lesson, and for some, we didn’t get to it. It depended on their skill level and if we needed to practice the more basic skills, we just didn’t get to the highway lesson. Although rare, I had some students that had never been behind the wheel of a car before. These students were terrified of a gas pedal! Crazy but true!
As I grew up on road trips with my dad, I didn’t mind being in the car all day long for my job, but it is tiring. the hyper vigilance required to stay out of an accident is exhausting, especially with today’s drivers. But, I got to interact with the students one on one, which I prefer. I was the most sought after teacher in the company. Most of the parents loved me, and I loved the students and was appreciated by my boss. I also got to see the outside world. It was a great fit for four years! But as always, all good things must come to an end, and I resigned during the great resignation in the United States.
I’ve heard that you never know how much of an impact you have on someone, and my position as a driver’s ed instructor definitely clarified that for me. One Saturday morning on a sunny summer day, I picked up a 29-year-old adult student. She lived in an apartment building on the outskirts of town. I was a little nervous because I had never had an adult student before. I didn’t know what to expect. Not bragging or complaining, but an I came to be the best instructor in the company. I picked her up and we went to practice at a church about twenty minutes away.
This was the lesson where the students learns to maneuver around cones, both forward and in reverse. It is part of the driving test for the State of Ohio where I live. If you hit a cone during the test, you automatically fail, and with good reason. In real life, that cone could’ve been a person. There are five cones that maneuver around; it is supposed to simulate the skills that you would need if you were parallel parking.
We arrive at the parking lot, and I begin the lesson. The woman is understandably nervous. I typically spend about thirty minutes driving teaching the students how to drive through the cones and back. I had a lot working against me. She previously had two lessons with a terribly unpopular instructor and was convinced she was going to fail. A learned helplessness if you will. However, in thirty short minutes she learned how to pass the maneuverability part of the test and she began to cry.
I was so startled that she was crying, I couldn’t understand what went wrong. When I asked what was going on, she stated that her self-esteem is incredibly low because of the fact that she was 29 and didn’t have a driver’s license. She was spending ridiculous amounts of money on using Uber to get to work, but the bigger problem was dating. She said she felt that she was undatable due to the fact that she had no driver’s license. Undatable. She literally said that I changed her life. That once she could drive, she could date. Once she could date, she could find love. And as they say, all you need is love.
That thirty-minute lesson reminds me, and should remind you if you are an educator, why we continue to teach in this hostile environment. We don’t go into for the money. We are constantly told our job is easy. The onslaught of mass shootings is only increasing the anxiety in an already anxious career. Just remember that you are changing lives. The students gain confidence from success, they gain skills and knowledge to last a lifetime. You might not be behind the wheel of a 2,000 pound vehicle, but your job is no less important.
About the Creator
I am an aspiring writer currently writing a book on the Sober Revolution we are in the midst of, a book about essays that will change the way you think, and a novel about a serial killer. I am also working on a book of poetry.