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October 3, 2010

Driver’s ed. – Drive me crazy

As an educator, I spend a lot of time in classrooms; preparing lessons, marking papers, surfing online for additional resources, whatever is necessary to make my students’ experience in my class as enjoyable and fruitful as possible. However, it has been a while since I was on the other end of it; I haven’t been a student for a couple of years or so. My recent foray back into the student’s desk proved to be irritating, aggravating, and four days of my life I’ll never get back.

I signed up for driver’s ed. Yep, I’m a 27-year-old without a driver’s license. Shocking, I know. There were issues of moving around a lot, not having the time/money/chance to really learn, etc; anyway, I’ve ended up here, almost thirty, studying to pass my test and get a license. When I signed up for the class (online registration), it appeared I was signing up for an adult program. I thought to myself, “This is great! A beginner’s class for adults!” Nope. There was me, one other woman roughly 25-35, and about 25 16-19 year-olds. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t outright “hate” teenagers. I might loathe them and their loud music, offensively-low jeans, and profane, inarticulate manner of expressing themselves, but I don’t hate them. I was initially disappointed in the dynamic, but I figured I’d stick it out – how bad could it be?

Bad. Awful. Dreadful to the point of being physically painful. There was our teacher, a 60-70 year-old former lawyer, John, and our class. I won’t say he didn’t try to maintain control, but I will say he really didn’t try hard enough. There were many times (many, MANY times) when these kids were way out of line, and he didn’t do much about it. I’m sure the “it’s only a week” mentality helps with that; you’re not going to make much difference in a week, after all. However, we all paid the same amount for the program, and we didn’t pay it to listen to rude, stupid comments generated by some punk kids. All I wanted was to get through the four-day course, take in as much information as possible, and be successful. I absolutely did not want to have my time wasted because some people have no respect for authority. Were those kids in my class (and yes, while I do adult ed, I have often had teenagers in my summer study programs) they would have been our on their backsides after the first strike.

Besides this, there is another issue to consider: teenagers and adults do not learn the same way. Teenagers, because of their shorter attention spans and restless behaviour, end up requiring more repeats and rephrasals than adults. Adults do not require spoonfeeding and leading in order to remember and understand information. “Common sense” is generally more problematic for teens than adults, so when learning defensive skills or logic skills (such as those required to operate a vehicle), the information often needs to presented over and over, in a number of different ways, in order to sink in. For adults, this is often simply annoying and boring; I got it the first time, so let’s move on.

In the end, I’m glad I took the course. I did learn a lot of useful information, and I know that because I took the course, I’ll get a break on my insurance. However, at the end of the four days, I was ready to strangle a few of the teens in the class, and was seething at the instructor for not stepping up his game a bit more and asserting himself.

Bottom line for driver’s ed: Adults and teens should not be in the classroom together. Learning styles vary between the two age groups, which means that the information will not be presented in the best possible way for both groups. An adults-only class and a teenagers-only class would serve the purpose better. That way, the adolescent class can be designed to meet their needs, and the adult class can be designed to meet their needs. No resentment on either side.

Bottom line for teaching adolescents: Be tough. John was a nice guy and a good teacher, but was too afraid to be firm. When a teen is mouthing off to you, coming in late and being disruptive, you need to put a stop to it immediately. This is not just to help protect your position as the classroom authority, but also for the sake of the other students who are, essentially, having their time stolen by moronic classmates. The rule in my class: everyone gets one warning. After your one warning, you are out on your backside. If/when the parents complain (after all, they PAID – that’s their favourite argument), point out that had they done their jobs as parents, their little darlings would know better than to misbehave in the classroom. After all, everyone in the class PAID – it’s not fair that their child disrupt the process for everyone else.

Bottom line for companies: Make it clear, upon registration, what type of age-dynamic the student can expect. One or two teenagers in an adult-class would likely result in the same discomfort and irritation I experienced. Customers have the right to make informed choices; don’t give them one impression and provide a different experience.

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