Monday, 26 October 2015

Sometimes, I feel like I have the best job in the world...

Someone came to me, because I taught one of her friends to drive.

This particular lady had been doing driving lessons, on and off, for about ten years, and had tested the patience of several instructors beyond breaking point, before deciding that she didn't want to do it any more, and taking a break.

Her problem? She couldn't reverse around a corner if her life depended on it.

She'd been given wrong information and poor technique from one instructor in particular, and had convinced herself that this manoeuvre was beyond her abilities.

I met her for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and she drove from her home, on a tight residential street without any real problems. I got her to drive to East Street, in Seacombe, which is a quiet road close to the banks of the Mersey. A couple of light industrial units and warehouses front this road, and there is very little traffic, particularly at the weekend. It has another very quiet road joining onto it at it's end called Kings Wharf. The junction is open, sweeping, and traffic free. An ideal place to find out why she was finding it so difficult.

Her problem was that the whole thing was totally stressing her out, but after spending some time talking about it, and constructing some visuals on the whiteboard, and with me doing the footwork, she got round reasonably well.

Fine. Job done, I thought. We went off and did some other stuff.

Next time, encouraged by what had happened on the first lesson, I took her to Trafalgar Road in Wallasey to do the same thing in a more challenging context. The junction, with Lea Road, is one that is used regularly on driving tests, and offered a sterner test, for several reasons.

It's a less open situation, on a much busier road. We did it at rush hour, in fading light, and as well as a lot of passing cars, there were other hazards such as pedestrians, children playing nearby, and what have you. The picture above represents the location, but not the conditions.

This was a disaster. She freaked. I couldn't get through to her, and found myself getting frustrated with her. We tried some ideas, but the whole thing was just awful. After battering ourselves against it for 15 minutes, I thought it best to move on and do something else. My usual methods were ineffective because she was too stressed to be able to follow them, and the longer we spent trying, the more it was damaging her confidence, and our professional relationship. If she hadn't needed to drive so much because of her personal circumstances, she'd have probably jacked it all in again.

Still, we sorted out another lesson, and I decided I needed to change tack. Every instructor she'd been with tried to sort out the Left Reverse by doing Left Reverses. If it hadn't worked with them, it wasn't going to work with us either, so I wanted to do something with her that explored the same skill set, but without the scary and stressful context of the manoeuvre itself.

So I took her to Grove Road Station Car Park, the far end of which is almost always empty, except at the busiest times.

As you can see, it has a load of space, some speed humps, and a small island of kerbing and shrubbery in a sea of tarmac.

I got her to drive forward over one speed hump, around the island, and back over the other hump. then I got her to do the same thing backwards. By getting her to look for, and aim for the speedbump she wanted to end up going over, she was able easily to get her hands and eyes working together and achieve her objective. We spent pretty much the whole lesson at this car park, and she came away from it feeling like a penny was starting to drop.

We had planned a daylight lesson this weekend, but she had to rearrange, and we ended up doing a lesson in darkness this evening. This wasn't ideal, and I'd thought about perhaps doing other stuff than the dreaded reverse, but in the instructor training session I did this afternoon/evening, one of the trainees expressed concern about his ability to do the left reverse correctly, so we spent some of the last two hours of the session on getting that sorted out. In the course of doing this, I found a well lit, quiet (at least on a Sunday evening) open junction where St Anne Street joins Cathcart Street in Birkenhead.

Take away the parked cars, and add both darkness and bright, even street lighting, and you get the context of what we were doing.

The instructor training session ended, and I headed off to my lesson with my pupil. I went back to the junction on the way to see if anything had changed, and reversed into the sideroad myself, just to assess things. Then I went and got her.

I explained that I had concerns about doing it at night but that I'd found a place that was as good as we could possibly get in the conditions. I stressed that we'd just try it once, with me doing the footwork, and that if it went wrong, we'd abandon it until we could try it in daylight. She confessed to feeling a bit nervous about it as we drove there, but was happy to try. We parked a few yards short of the junction, and had a look at it. There was a parked car 20 yards or so into the side road - ideal as something to aim for, then we did the reverse.

And she got it. I kept the speed at a crawl. She looked where she was going, and when the road appeared in her rear window, she straigtened up and reversed straight down the road.

Then she did it again, this time, doing the footwork herself. Once again, she was able to get round the corner and reversing straight down the road. And then a third time. And a fourth at another slightly less open junction nearby.

Happy bunnies! I still have to be careful not to chuck her in too deep too soon, but we've broken the back of this I reckon and can move on to other things.

It's nice to get the money and all that, but really, it's stuff like this that makes me want to get up in the morning and put in a shift.

driving lessons in North Wirral? learn to drive in Hoylake? driving instructor in Birkenhead?

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