Never Judge a Pupil By Its Cover!

I took a phone call many years ago from a guy asking about driving lessons. I could tell by his tone that he was very scared. He asked me whether I would MAKE him drive on the first driving lesson. I re-assured him he was in safe hands and not to worry.

We would take it easy and if he was not ready to drive then that was OK. A couple of days later he called again to confirm, and plead me not to make him drive on the first lessons. Low and behold, the day before his test, he called again ensuring I would not make him or he would pay me, but would not want the lesson. I have had nervous pupils before, but this was something else.

never judge a pupil by its cover

As I approached the guy’s house on the day of the driving lesson (in an area that did not have the best reputation), I noticed a very large tattooed guy with lots of piercings. He was massive and looked very threatening. As usual, I arrived early and was preparing some notes for the first lesson with half an eye on this guy as he approached the car.

I sheepishly opened the window at which point he asks, “are you Dave?” “Yes” I reply, and he announces himself as Mark, my pupil.

Well if I hadn’t have been sitting down I would have fallen over. He squeezes into the passenger seat and again gets me to agree not to make him drive on this lesson. You could see the perspiration coming from him. There was clearly a problem. I drove to a quiet area, not too far from other people mind you, and asked some questions. Turned out he had been involved in a bad car crash -hence his trepidation.

Gradually (on about the third lesson) I got him to take the wheel and he drove a few yards. This was increased and his confidence grew. I also got to know Mark very well and he was a very nice chap indeed. Frightening to look at but a very nice man. When I knew him well enough, I asked why the tattoos etc. He replied “Dave, as you know, I’m scared of my own shadow, when you look like this, people cross the street rather than talk to me.” I could believe that too.

On one lesson, we were doing bay parks in a well-known supermarket when we were approached by a tiny security guard with a big ego. The guard started to tell us we were illegally parking and while I started to explain the legalities etc, he started to back away from the car. I then realised Mark had stepped out of the car – the guard was clearly scared. The guard ran off mumbling something. Mark was actually about to run off as he was scared as we were being ‘told off.’ It took me another three lessons before Mark would drive again.

Mark passed his driving test on the first attempt. I used some calming methods and coaching before the test, I took him into the test centre, introduced him to an examiner (pre-arranged beforehand.) I still remember the look on the examiners face.

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The other side.

I once had a small contract with a private school for young ladies. This was a very expensive and exclusive school, very prim and proper.

I had taught several of the students there but one of them sticks out very well. On her first lesson it was clear she had a bit of an attitude. She was telling me about how she got in trouble for all sorts of things. On one occasion we were overtaken by another car and she started to speed up saying “I’m not letting this happen.” She kept wanting to drive fast and told me, when she passes her test she will come back and show me how to drive properly.

learner car at lights
The girl explained that all her friends drove like this…

I remember once, at a set of traffic lights in the middle of Exeter city centre, she proceeded to try and recline the seat right back while we waited for the lights to change. She adopted a position like a racing driver. I asked her what she was doing, she explained all her friends drove like this. As the lights changed, she went to move off and stalled. She could not reach the keys from her position so pulled herself towards the keys and re-started the engine. By now, the lights were back to red. Back to her racing position, I asked her “would the position have anything to do with the stall?” “No,” she said “all my friends drive like this.”So, the lights turned green, she proceeded to move off and another stall. She is getting more frustrated and the cars behind are now starting to toot their horn. Eventually she puts the seat up and the move off is successful.

I guide us to a particular spot and pull her over. “Let’s talk about what happened” I said. We discussed about how the seating position could affect the pedal positions. We also discussed  safety and vision through windows and I asked why she wanted to it like that. She explained that it looks ‘cool.’

“Take a look to your right and tell me what you see?” I said. I had placed us outside a very reflective shop window. So, what do we have? A girl with all the designer gear on. Designer shades and haircut. All very cool, but I add “Somewhat negated by the AA, the bloody driving school logos all over the car and the big red L on the roof.” Yes, I actually did swear – not something I do in lessons but on this occasion, I planned it for the congruence of the lesson. She took the point.

I remember this girl’s first test, the examiner was called Gabi. The pupil wanted to do the 5:30pm test, as she had been told all the pupils pass with this test. Now, this girl to be fair had great car control skills. Her driving was good, but it was her attitude that was bad. The test went well, everything fine until turning back into the test centre. Waiting for traffic to pass, the pupil announces “I’m not waiting for them” and cuts right across the front. FAIL

Test 2, again she wanted the 5:30pm. This time, almost back at the test centre at the penultimate junction and she decides to race the car to beat another to the give way line. Fail 2.

Test 3, 51mph in a 40mph and I can’t remember test 4 but she passed on test 5. And guess who her examiner was every time. Yes, Gabi, as she was the only examiner doing the 5:30pm test. The girl kept blaming the examiner for the test fails and saying she was going to kick her.

After she passed, she was looking forward to Mummy buying her a new car as promised. Until then she had to drive her mums old banger (2 years old). When her car came one month later, the mum’s car had so many scrapes and dents in it, her mum told her she was keeping the new car and the daughter was to have the old one. You could hear her scream in Scotland.

So, the title for this article was ‘Never Judge a Pupil By Its Cover’ and first impressions do not always count. Both these pupils were challenging in their own way and I enjoyed teaching both. Each for different reasons. It’s the variety and challenges of the job I love, and these stories are far from limited. Every day presents new problems, solutions and stories.

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