Bimmer Lite - April 2008
Instructor Appreciation Month
by Marc Biunno (aka Bimmer Lite)
Reprinted courtesy of Marc Biunno and Roundel Magazine
Do you know that my family has not once recognized its favorite educator during teacher appreciation week? It's mildly offensive, I'd say, but I trudge on in a thankless profession, molding young minds while sacrificing the monetary demands necessary to be up on everything my Mini (Vini) needs. Every now and again, I get the itch to go work elsewhere and bring home a larger paycheck, but that fleeting moment is usually squashed by the intangible benefits of being an educator. And for what it's worth, while I might think I know how to teach, I've still got a lot to learn. Those lessons, it seems, are coming from a wide variety of areas – even CCA driving schools.
There's a group of people who know how to teach much better than I do. Sure, I can teach 14-year olds who pose no immediate threat to my well-being, but what would I do if I were in a life-threatening situation with them? What would I do if, say, I were in a car with them? On a racetrack? Driving stupidly fast? I'd probably close my eyes, assume the fetal position, and hope beyond hope that my voluntary bodily functions remain voluntary.
CCA driving school instructors are teachers on a whole different level, and for their efforts, they deserve recognition and appreciation. Stepping into a car with a complete rookie driver under the assumption that the driver will navigate a race track at high speeds, with other drivers nearby, and with danger lurking everywhere, is like teaching a five year old to use a rifle by standing in front of him or her with an apple on top of your head. For all of the different ways you could try to express that the child be “smooth” with the trigger, to “keep his eyes up” and on the apple, and to visualize the “line” to the target, there's still a good bit of danger involved.
Hyperbole aside, CCA instructors step into a dangerous situation for zero pay (save for some track time) and, often, minimal appreciation. It's one thing to be able to drive quickly, but it's a whole other thing to be able to get the average driver to do the same. Some people enter driving schools under the assumption that going quicker on the track just means mashing the gas harder and performing Michael Schumacher-like passes in turns. CCA instructors need to not only battle these ignorant beliefs, but they also have to help drivers improve by going slower at the start while building speed throughout the day. Now, this might be natural for some beginners (like my dad, who gets passed by everyone), but in others' heads, the driving school is actually an Indy-500. So while the instructor has to teach the skills necessary to traverse a track, they also have to be good enough at psychology to talk down the staunchest of egos.
I've been impressed with each instructor I've had thus far. Stepping into the car at the beginning, I'd think that my instructor deserved respect for his or her driving prowess. Stepping out of the car, I always end up with a healthy respect for what my instructors apparently know about pedagogy, too. If you were to interview with a principal for a teaching job, he or she will ask you if you can pre-assess knowledge and skills; plan experiences to fit with each student's developmental level, learning style, and readiness; and then accurately assess the experience for learning. This is fancy stuff teachers learn in college and graduate school, but driving instructors do all of it in a car, at speed, and in turns. That's talent!
My instructors have always asked specific questions at the beginning of each session to get an idea of my driving level. Then they'd set some quick, basic goals for the session, and some more complex goals for the entire day. As we drove, they'd assess my progress towards my goals, and to show that I'm learning and not just reacting, they'd make me verbalize my progress, too. One instructor told me to say everything I was seeing during certain laps. This let him and me know if I was actually looking ahead, which is of the utmost importance on track. Another instructor asked me to report whether I was at full, partial, or half-throttle throughout the process of each corner. My most recent instructor broke down all of the different ways to get through each turn, had me try them all, and then discussed with me what the best way around the track was for me, my car, and my level. I don't think I need to go into further detail to prove that these people are master teachers.
As it turns out, driving school instructors help to create the best classroom in the world. We drive the cars we love as they're meant to be driven. We learn about the limits of the car and ourselves, and we walk away having experienced something unforgettable (perfectly apexing a turn) and infinitely useful (advanced car-control). And when all is said and done, we have to realize that driving schools wouldn't exist without driving instructors. For that, I think we, as a community, should give our thanks and appreciation.
So, neophytes abroad, let's do a few things to make instructors' lives easier. 1. Listen to them! 2. Go slow and make their work environment safer. 3. When you've improved and are about to credit either your incredible driving knack (why yes, I am the next Juan Pablo Montoya!) or your car, just stop and say “thanks.”
Truth be told, I have no clue when Teacher Appreciation Week is. But I do know that even if we don't spend this season telling instructors how much we appreciate their time, effort, and skills, they'll continue to help us, anyway.
Thanks for that, guys and gals.