Many hats to wear.

The Codfish
By: Anonymous

The codfish lays ten thousand eggs,
The homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles
To tell you what she’s done.
And so we scorn the codfish,
While the humble hen we prize,
Which only goes to show you
That it pays to advertise.

To be successful in business, you need to be selling something people want, and you need to let people know you’re there selling it. So if you’re good at what you do, but not good at promoting yourself, you’re probably going to do worse than someone that’s not so good at their job, but good at being a businessman or salesman.

I get most of my business through word of mouth, and because my website has been well designed, so that it sits on page one for some of the search terms that matter. The first of these is the best to have. Satisfied customers are the best advert of all.

I dislike advertising. It’s an intrusion. We live in a world awash in messages that try to get us to buy stuff we don’t need. Yet I have to compete for new clients with everyone else out there. There is no shortage of instructors chasing the work.

So needs must. I’ve put a promotion up, with a price reduction for the next few weeks, and I’m giving money to facebook and google to let the world know I’m doing it.

Kate…

Another success story. This is Kate from Bromborough. Kate struggled with nerves right through towards the end of her training, and was very nervous on the day of her test. This was affecting her driving to a point where I had to stop the lesson for a little while, just to give her some breathing room. If you’re nervous, it affects your control of the car, and tends to make you try to rush things. Not what you want when you’re about to do a driving test.

So we parked up, and had a bit of downtime. Just chilled. I cleaned some tenacious bird poo off the windscreen that the wipers and squirters had failed to get rid of. She had a drink of coffee that she’d brought with her. We went over a few ideas in a calm and relaxed environment, then I got her to the test centre fairly close to test time, so that she wouldn’t be sitting brooding for too long.

Kate was helped by the fact that she got an examiner who was friendly and talkative. She relaxed. And so, despite the poor pre-test lesson, to her surprise, and mine too if I’m honest, she got the nod. As you can see, she’s delighted, not just with passing, but with the fact that she’ll never have to do this again!

Congratulations Kate. You were a lovely person to teach, and I’m proud of how well you did, despite the nerves.

Why being ready matters…

A year or so ago, I got a new pupil. This pupil had come to me with a test booked. She had some kind of disagreement with her previous instructor, and somehow ended up with me.

I did an assessment lesson, and found that she was some way from test standard, but she seemed to pick up well on what I was trying to teach her, and we agreed that if she put the work in, it was possible to get her to where she needed to be. We also agreed that if she got to perhaps a week before her test date, and she wasn’t ready, there was always the option of postponing her test for a few weeks so that she could get the extra tuition she required.

We  both worked very hard, and although I had some misgivings, she put in quite a few hours in the last week, and took her test. And passed. First time. A real success story! Go us!

Except it wasn’t.

She had no money to buy a car so she didn’t drive for several months. Then when she did, she found that she couldn’t really drive. She was causing problems to other road users, and had several near misses. Unsurprisingly, she found driving frightening and had lost a lot of the confidence she’d picked up during the few weeks she had lessons with me.

I did a refresher lesson with her, and to me it felt like if she’d had to do her test again she would have failed badly. After that lesson, I didn’t see her again. Whether she tried further refresher lessons with a different instructor, or chose to carry on regardless,or had given up driving and sold her car, I have no idea. I suspect the latter.

Thing is, once you pass, you’re on your own. Nobody is going to help you or take over control of your vehicle so that you don’t hurt yourself or someone else. It takes time, repetition and practice for ideas and methods to become something automatic. If it isn’t something you can do pretty much without thinking, you really can’t do it properly. If you’re a driver and you’re reading this, you probably understand what I mean. If you can drive and listen to the radio, or have a conversation with your passenger, you’re driving without thinking. I’ve heard this stage described as “unconsciously competent”

The stage before that is called “consciously competent” and you can really only think about one thing at a time. Try doing two sums at once or doing some unfamiliar task while being distracted and you’ll get the picture. It’s only when it happens at a deeper level that you can multitask effectively. When you drive, you’re putting a huge amount of craft into controlling (using all of your limbs and senses) a vehicle, through a complex and dynamic environment. If you can’t do it without having to consciously think about it, you really can’t do it.

So I dislike intensive courses. I will do them, because I’ve got to earn a living, and for some people it’s really not a problem. I don’t think they always produce very good drivers though, and my job is to do my bit in improving standards, and ultimately, reducing the number of deaths and injuries on Britain’s roads.

Also, if your test is close, and you’re not confident, or for that matter, if your instructor feels that you’d be a poor driver afterwards, the best advice I can give you is to get further training before you take your test, even if that means postponing your test for a few weeks. If you fluke it, ultimately, you’re not doing yourself any favours.

Supply and Demand

There are cyclical elements to the industry I work in. Here’s how it works…

The number of instructors is fairly low. The instructors are busy. Too busy. They get the work and make a bit of money. Trainee drivers can sometimes struggle to get an instructor that can fit them in at the times they want.

This makes the role attractive to anyone that wants to go into this line of work. Demand for instructors is stimulated by training organisations that themselves can make money by training people to do the job. When I first started, the newspapers were full of adverts in the situations vacant section screaming “EARN £50K A YEAR! – IT’! EASY! JUST SIT ON YOUR BACKSIDE ALL DAY TELLING PRETTY YOUNG GIRLS WHAT TO DO!”

This leads to an influx of new instructors. Much of the training is poor quality. Some of these instructors are poorly suited to the role, but they somehow get their green badge, and start working, either for themselves, or as franchisees.

Now there are a lot of instructors chasing the available work. The promised money fails to come in. The job a lot harder and less rewarding in other ways than they thought. Prices drop as competing schools cut each others throats to try to bring work in.

Disillusioned and indebted, many instructors leave the profession, leading to…

Repeat ad infinitum.

Right now, I’ve seen a lot of new schools start up recently, and it’s getting a little difficult to pick up new work, even for well established smaller schools with a good reputation, like mine.

Short notice cancellations and no-shows

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This is our livelihood. It’s how we pay the bills and put food on the table. We therefore ask that you provide at least 24 hours notice if you intend to cancel. We may charge you for the lesson if you cancel at the last moment. If we turn up for a scheduled appointment, and you’re not there, we will charge you for our wasted time and fuel.

Life happens. Emergencies happen. We understand that, and would not add to your burdens if you have a genuine reason, but  the right to charge you for missed appointments and short notice cancellations is part of our terms and conditions.

Better to be straight with people, yes?

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I’ve been doing a bit of research. Here’s what I’ve found…

Some driving schools don’t publish their prices anywhere. You have to actually contact them, which gives them the opportunity to do the hard sell.

Some driving schools offer prices “per lesson” rather than “per hour”. If you’re paying £25 per 50 minute lesson, that’s actually £30 per hour. Most local schools in this area have this clearly stated on their websites, but not all of them are up front about it. 50 minute lessons allow instructors to cram more lessons in per day.
I’d rather have a bit more time between lessons, so that I can keep my concentration levels high, and provide as professional a service as possible.

Some of the deals offered are less straightforward than they seem. You get X lessons for £whatever, but some of those lessons have to be taken at the end of your training. If you decide not to carry on with that school, you lose some of the lessons you thought you’d paid for.

Smaller schools tend to be cheaper than the national and large local schools. That’s to be expected. Driving Instructors pay a lot of money each week to these schools, and so they have to charge top dollar to recoup their outgoings.

I tried to make a list of prices and what have you, and on some sites, it wasn’t easy to get the information I was looking for. I did find that we’re among the cheapest.

Our lessons cost £25 per full hour. If you pay for ten hours up front, you get an 11th hour free. You get your first 2 hour lesson for £25.

That’s it. Keep it simple. No hidden extras.

Gary…

Gary from Hoylake, who today passed his test. Gary already had a number of years driving under his belt, so my job was to just knock off a few rough edges and stop the sort of bad habits that lead to faults on your test. Easy as pie! A handful of lessons and a straightforward first time pass. Congratulations to him. It will make his life much easier now that he’s not relying on other people to get to work.

Music to drive to. Driving to muse to…

I am both a teacher and a learner.

This is useful because identifying and understanding what is happening when I’m learning makes me a better teacher. It’s also useful because identifying and understanding what is happening when I’m teaching makes me a better learner.

The act of teaching is to get an idea, method, concept, fact, way of thinking/looking at things, or whatever, from my head into someone elses. Copy and paste, if imperfectly.

The act of learning is the process of going from knowing nothing about something (unconsciously incompetent) to being able to fully comprehend or do the thing being learned, really without having to think too hard about it. (unconsciously competent)

I teach people how to drive. I’m trying to learn a lot of new music, some of which I find challenging.

If I wanted to perform a song in public, I’d want to make sure I could play it something close to fluently first. Yet as a driving instructor, I’m asking people to drive in public long before that point. No wonder they panic!

Anyway, I’ve been trying to learn how to play three new songs. Bear in mind that I can already play guitar, reasonably well, so it’s a bit like someone who decides to learn how to drive that is already a fully qualified motorcyclist. Or perhaps even like someone that’s been driving a Vauxhall for the last 10 years, who now needs to adjust to driving a Honda. A lot of it’s already there. It’s a matter of getting to grips with the specifics. I don’t have to relearn the guitar again. I don’t have to start from scratch.

To drive, you need your hands and feet to be in the right places. You can’t change gear with your hand on the steering wheel. You can’t normally move off with your foot on the brake. When I’m driving, my hands and feet just go to the right places before they need to be used. As I approach a left hand bend, my left hand moves to the top of the wheel. If I might need to slow down or stop, my right foot moves into position over the brake pedal.

To play a chord, the fingers of my left hand need to be in the right place on the fretboard just a moment before I pluck or strum the strings with my right hand, which also needs to be in the right place. Where my feet are doesn’t really matter too much, although if I was doing music in any serious way, I’d need to learn new skills like, pressing the correct pedal on the correct bank of footpedals at exactly the right moment.

Then the strings have to be played in the right way, in the right order, at the right tempo and played cleanly, without burring other strings, unless you’re trying to burr strings on purpose, which you can do without smashing into a lamp post. The controls of the car too have to be used in the right way, with finesse and nuance. Getting things wrong can have horrible consequences. I suspect anyone used to using a wah-wah pedal properly, or for that matter, a sewing machine, would find it easy to master clutch control.

The three songs I’ve been trying to learn are:

I start off by getting help from the internet. Finding lyrics and chords is straightforward. I try to play these through, and I’ll often manage it, although I could not possibly do so without the help of the words and chords on the screen. Difficult or unaccustomed chords or chord changes cause a halt in play while I organise my fingers. Lyrics and song structures may be played quite well right from the beginning if it’s a song I know well, or if the structure is obvious and unsophisticated.

With practice I progress. The strange new chord becomes easier to play. That horrible complicated twiddly bit that I messed up 100 times now only gets messed up one time in three. I start to be able to sing at least bits of the lyrics without having them in front of me.

The point I’m aiming for is when I can get it completely right, every time, or something close. The errors along the way are both inevitable and necessary. Just a part of the process of learning.

My pupils don’t like error. It’s scary and embarrassing. I see error as something useful – something that helps you develop a fuller understanding, a learning opportunity.

So where am I up to with these three songs? Well quite far along.  Not going to share any of it here though!

Seamus

A first time pass, with just three minor faults. I sat in on this one, and Seamus had milk floats, bicycles and horses to deal with. No matter. He was well up to the mark.

We were able to give Seamus a lot of help and advice about the theory test. He’s dyslexic, and we were able to help make sure he got the extra help that is available. In his case, listening to the questions and answers through headphones was what made the difference. If you have any issues such that may affect your ability to pass the theory test, perhaps we can help you.