Thursday, 3 June 2010

Will I Ever Learn?

When, back in 1998, I first signed up to do an advanced driving course, my thinking was that I was already a pretty good driver but hey, I might pick up a couple of tips. The test of course, would just be a formality. The reality was somewhat different. There was a geat deal about driving that I hadn't previously considered and suddenly I was seeing so much more with my new, enhanced observation than I ever had before that I thought my head would explode from the intensity of it. The test itself was a not a formality and was if anything more gruelling than my original driving test.
The following year I joined up with York Advanced Motorcyclists to train for my advanced motorcycling test. This would of course be pretty straight forward as I was already an advanced driver. The test, so I thought, would obviously be just a formality.... Oh no. Once again my eyes were opened as my riding was dissected and reconstructed. I can particularly remember at one point I seriously wondered if I'd ever be good enough to do it, there was so much to think about and all at the same time! The advanced riding test, again, was no formality. Indeed at one point I thought I'd failed, though fortunately my examiner saw things more leniently and gave me a pass, albeit with a few words of caution.
In 2000 I thought I'd have a go at the RoSPA Advanced Motorcycling Test, thinking that with my IAM in the bag, this would just be a formality, especially as I'd now been observing for a year. Gutted I was, when the examiner returned a verdict of pass with Silver Grade! Silver Grade, I ask you, surely I deserved a Gold, but apparently not. Consequently I went away, did some hard training, and six months later was rewarded with the Gold pass I so desired. Curiously, with my newly found expertise, I could now see why I hadn't warranted a Gold on my ealier attempt.
Two years ago, in 2008, I started training as a driving instructor, with a change of career in mind. Three tests to take; Theory, Driving and Instructional. Obviously these would just be formalities, I mean, hey, with my background?
Actually with my background, you'd thought I'd have learnt by now that in fact I don't know everything about anything and in fact the training turned out to be more intense and brain-testing than I had ever envisaged. Nevertheless, the training was good, (I've always relished the challenge of training once I've acknowledged that I don't know it all already) and I passed all three tests first time.
Can anyone see a pattern building up here?
You'd really think that by the time I signed up last month for an AA Driving School DIT course, learning to train new potential driving instructors, I would have realised my limitations, but no. Not me (will I ever?). It'll just be stuff I do already, thought I. Once again, far from knowing it all before I start, I'm learning more about what I don't know already, and once again relishing the challenge and loving the training. Respect to Alan Esam who has put together and is running the course - it's great - difficult, challenging yet achievable, and I'm loving it, but it's certainly not the simple formality I was foolishly expecting. At the beginning of the course when we looked at personal objectives, one of mine was to be reminded that I don't know everything already. Nice one Alan, you proper sorted that in the first two days! Loving the course and can't wait for next week. Curiously, this time, now, I'm not looking at the final test of instructional abilty to be just a formality and consequently am putting serious effort into making sure I pass.
Maybe I'm starting to learn after all...

Friday, 7 May 2010

That's My Boy!

I don't think I've ever wanted to write my feelings down and record them more than I do this week; I feel so proud;
My eldest son Luca, now 4, this week took part with his fellow nursery-mates in skipping around a maypole erected in the school hall, and not having a driving lesson booked at the time, I went along with Trisha to see. I've never really witnessed Luca subscribe much to joining with group activities before so didn't really know what to expect. When I've occasionally taken him to nursery he'stendedto seek out something to play with then quietly get on with it himself. When he gets engrossed, he gets properly engrossed to the point that he's sometimes hard to reach. Is this normal for a four year old? I've really no idea as I have no previous experience to draw from.
Anyway, our first surprise, as Trisha and I walked into the hall to see all the children sitting quietly waiting for proceedings to begin, was that Luca was sat waiting as quietly as all the other children. He's not normally one for waiting quietly so this was a bit of a shock but it was so nice to see. Then when the teacher stood next to him told him we'd arrived and pointed us out, he stood and waved at us with such excitement and enthusiasm that my heart melted. Trisha's too. He then quietly sat and waited again until being led to the Maypole.
The children were to be dancing/skipping round in pairs and he'd told us he would be partnering Jessica, but no, there was Luca by himself and Jessica was with another little boy. Not left out though, one of the nursery teachers came and held his hand, ready to start. Then I found out why. As soon as the music started Luca shut his eyes and they remained shut while he skipped, circling around the pole for a couple of minutes until the music stopped. After a short delay whilst the children were regrouped to circle the other way, the music started again and sure enough, Luca skipped around the maypole with his eyes firmly and resoloutely closed, not to open again until the music was once again switched off and everyone came to a stop. Trisha asked him later if he had shut his eyes because he was concentrating really hard and he told us yes, though to be honest we're not really sure what was going on in his little head. Shut eyes or not however, Trisha and I are both incredibly proud to see our little Luca engaging in an organised group activity with other children and being incredibly well behaved throughout. Don't get me wrong, we didn't expect him to misbehave, but it was such a joy to see how good he was. If you're a parent yourself, I'm guessing you'll know just how I feel, if not then you're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about. Beforebecoming a parent myself, I wouldn't have had a clue!

Friday, 10 July 2009

I Miss 'Em!

One of my favourites passed her test on Wednesday. First time too, which was nice. Rachel, for that is her name, was thinking before hand that she probably wouldn't pass first time as apparently most people don't, but she was properly prepared and breezed it! Although I was almost as pleased as she was with the result, I was more pleased the previous day, in her last lesson before test day, when she was driving around with fabulous, sensitive control and a clear knowledge of what she was doing. Bearing in mind that a few months ago Rachel couldn't set off without stalling (her first lesson) the change is amazing and consequently never ceases to amaze me in Rachel, or any of my other learners. The actual pass itself is occasionally tinged with sadness for me as whilst I'm always pleased for them, the pass also means I won't get to share time with them any more, as they progress with their driving career without me. As with many others, I've really enjoyed teaching Rachel to drive and will miss her.
That same afternoon though, I saw Tess, another of my previous clients who passed her test (also first time) in April. It was a completely chance meeting in Tesco car park but gave us a chance to chat and catch up. It was very rewarding to see her driving around and be able to think; "I made that possible". Still miss her too, though. Not to mention Ed, John, Andy, Zoe, Sarah and many others. Just in case any of you ever read this... Drop me a line and let me know how you're getting on...?

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Born To Teach?

Life as a driving instructor has its ups and downs, but on the whole, it’s great. I get on very well with most of my clients and we have a laugh or two whilst they learn how to drive. I really enjoy building a relationship over the time I spend with them, sharing the joy and frustration as they learn and struggle, and then learn some more, and sharing their elation as they pass their test (most of my passes are first time too, which is nice). Occasionally I get asked if I’ve thought about becoming an examiner. This is something I really wouldn’t want to do.
As a driving instructor, I get to know my clients and build something of a bond with them, sharing time in the car together, experiencing highs and lows of the learning procedure and ultimately the final high as they wave the pass certificate in the air and text all their mates on the way home. As an examiner I’d get to see a stream of individuals for 40 minutes each, half of whom (at York, pass rate is about 50%) I’d have to crush by telling them that they haven’t reached the standard this time. No banter. No sharing. No bonding. No learning. No fun.
As a driving instructor I sometimes conduct mock tests but at least at the end if it doesn’t go well I can go on to say
“Well, that wasn’t great, but now let’s go and fix it!”
I love the whole teaching thing of facilitating learning and seeing people do something that they couldn’t do an hour, a week, or a month ago. And then being able to think;
“I made that possible.” It’s a great feeling and very rewarding.
I get this in the dance world too. On the night the Engine Shed re-opened its doors to the salsa community, I had the pleasure of dancing with several ladies whom I have taught to dance and I delighted in every one of them. Even better when separately but on that same evening, two of the ladies concerned actually kissed me and thanked me for teaching them to dance. How good did that make me feel?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Life On the Road

It was five months ago I started work as a driving instructor and for a while I wondered if I was going to make it. The hardest part of the job is actually finding pupils to teach, hence my getting a franchise with the AA Driving School in the hope that they'd get some for me. There are never any guarantees but they've got more experience of marketing driving lessons than I have, and a conversation with an established AA instructor during my training led me to believe that they are pretty good at it. The first week was a bit of a disaster, all sorts of problems with admin etc, resulted in no one to teach at all. The AA tell us we're welcome to go and find people to teach ourselves but that's far easier said than done and after a cold morning stood outside our local college handing out special offer cards to anyone that would take one (not many as it happened) I realised when no one actually took me up on the offers that self marketing was likely to be difficult. Fortunately, the second week, things started to pick up and carried on for a month or so as I steadily got busier.

Until Christmas. From early December to end of January, I got about two new pupils a month, not the two a week I'd hoped for. Business was definitely not booming. From what I understand, most independant driving instructors get most of their work from referrals. People who've passed their tests and told their mates how brilliant they are. I thought this would work for me too but first I had to get someone through their test!

Good news then that yesterday, exactly five months since I started, I got my first test pass. My pupil Andy was well chuffed as he'd reckoned the cards were stacked against him. With a colourful history of driving disqualifications (earned riding a motorcycle unlicensed and uninsured) he thought the any examiner would be desperate to keep him off the road but he went in there, properly prepared and passed first time with flying colours. I like to think I can take some of the credit for that, though to be fair Andy does have a lot of aptitude. It's been a pleasure working with him, and more so when the examiner pronounced the news at the end of his test yesterday (albeit without breaking a smile, miserable sod!). Andy is over the moon as he's got a car waiting to be driven and now he can go and drive it.

I'm over the moon too for I've now got a good test pass in the bag and almost feel like a "proper" driving instructor. Business is picking up too. Throughout February introductions started coming more frequently again, and my diary has now been pretty full for the last couple of weeks and looks like continuing in the same vein. As my mate Maureen says;
"Life is grand!"

Friday, 21 November 2008

Number's Up!

What was that I wrote about Wetherby being down on numbers last few weeks?
Cue Victor Meldrew impersonation; "I don't believe it!"
This week in Wetherby numbers were through the ceiling as we had 17 brand new beginners! This is a new record for us and in fact we had more brand newbies than we had "experienced" beginners so ended up throwing everyone in together for a basic class. Beginners who were expecting to cover "Casino" this week, please accept my apologies (we'll do it again in 7 weeks time) and also my thanks for your indulgence. I had one slightly disappointed leader ask if he could do our level 2 class as he felt level 1 had been a bit of a nothing for him. Sadly he asked me right before we started and we like to put our beginners through their paces before we move them up so he couldn't move up this week. Cheeky fella then proceeded to watch (and follow) the class from the sidelines, practising with a friend. From what I could see, he's going to be moving up next week!
I hope he stays with us when he does. A couple of years ago we had one bloke desperate to move up for months but he really struggled to make the grade. He'd used to go to other classes and tell us about how he'd managed ok, yet he'd still struggle to successfully lead our beginners syllabus.
When he eventually cracked it and moved up to our level 2 class, he only did about two weeks before he slung his hook and we haven't seen him back since. Maybe he was just seeking our recognition? There's no understanding some folk. I'm glad he hasn't given up dancing though - I see him around the circuit every now and again and always give him a nod and a smile.
If you're reading this, why not tip me a nod and a smile too?
Catch yer laters

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Driving Passion II

Four weeks ago today, following a two day induction course with the AA Driving School (following qualification as a DSA Approved Driving Instructor, following months of study and training), I started work as a driving instructor. Well, I say started work but in truth, I didn't actually "teach" anyone until the Saturday of the following week, when I had a lesson with the first of my AA allocated pupils. The pupil concerned was a very pleasant young lady called Claire who had already done a considerable amount of training and had her test booked in a couple of weeks. One lesson with me and she cancelled all further lessons and decided to go it alone! Either I was brilliant or I was crap! (I'm thinking crap). There was loads of stuff in that lesson I didn't do very well, suffice to say I learnt from the experience though I do feel I let Claire down a bit, as she didn't get brilliant value for money, that particular Saturday morning.

My next pupil was another partly trained lady, who despite the fact that I'd rectified many of my faults from the previous outing and did a much better job, also had one lesson with me before cancelling all further lessons. This time I didn't have to blame my poor lesson technique. The lady concerned was a field engineer working away from home and she was called back to her head office before we got the chance to do any more together.

Since then, it's been getting better. I've now got several pupils who I'm teaching from scratch, and three or four more who are partly trained who seem to be happy with the service I'm providing (one of whom had one lesson with me then promptly booked two hours a day for the next 11 days!).

It was a big jump, leaving a "secure" career and regular dayjob, but so far, at least now it's started to pick up a bit, it's paying dividends in terms of job satisfaction. I love to see how pleased the learners are when they start to get the hang of it, though it's not without its risks, too. One of the areas I only glossed over in my training was use of dual controls, and I wondered if I'd be up to it when the need arose. I needn't have worried. Earlier this week the learner in the driving seat next to me seemed intent on getting us both mown down by a 40 ton articulated truck as he happily attempted to pull out in front of it, and my feet responded pretty damn fast when my I realised my life (and his) was on the line.

At the moment, despite only teaching 19 hours this last week, I seem to be a lot busier than when I had a "regular" job, as I'm also spending loads of time on admin as I set up my new business and get used to all the new procedures, plus the time I spend driving the local roads searching out suitable locations on which to take my learners. Once I've found my feet a bit, this should ease off considerably and hopefully I'll be able to spend a bit more time with my family, though already I'm getting home at lunchtime most days, which I never once did when I worked in an office 55 miles away!

This is such a joy as Luca particularly is going through a phase where he seems to be developing really quickly and I don't want to miss it. He's been building up a vocabulary for over a year, but recently he's been putting much more in context and actually holding conversations where he answers questions. I don't expect anyone who hasn't got their own children to understand this ("great, so he can hold a conversation!") but I know other parents will totally relate to my sentiments. He is such a dlight to Trisha and I, and Ben, bless his cotton socks (which can't seem to stay on for more than five minutes) is still the smiley-est baby I've ever come across, despite being plagued with ill-health (currently bronchiolitis for the last month or so) for most of his life so far. He's six months old next week. Where did that go?

On a completely different subject, can anyone explain to me why when numbers at our York Club are going through the roof, Wetherby has dropped off big-time? I'll never understand the dynamics of the change of numbers of people at salsa clubs. I still vividly remember one week at Wetherby a little over a year ago when we only got 11 people through the door all evening! We were back to over 30 the following week and so we asked people what they'd bee up to. No big football match, no common reason; everyone we asked had a random, unconnected reason for their absence the previous week! Just totally coincidence. Weird.
Speaking of Salsa, we're now looking forward to our Christmas parties and attendees are in for a real treat this year. Trisha has put together a fantastic routine for the our intermediate ladies' demonstration and our friends (and assistants) Phil and Kate have been busy choreographing and teaching our partnerwork demo. Phil came to me with an idea for the demo about three months ago thinking I might take it on board, and unwittingly volunteered himself for the job. I'm glad he did though, because he and Kate are doing a brilliant job. I almost wish I wasn't involved in performing it so I could just enjoy watching from the audience. It's gonna be fab!

Hope to see you there...