To learn more about this career, try contacting a local driving school. You can interview instructors to learn what skills are needed to teach students of all ages and abilities. By spending time with the school's owner, you can see firsthand what it takes to register students, make employee schedules, maintain a fleet of cars, and perform other tasks needed to run a business.
During your driver education classes, pay attention to the teaching techniques of your own instructor. Does he or she rely mostly on classroom lectures or bring in other sources or projects to spur interest and discussion? Ask yourself what you would do to add creativity when teaching this important topic. You can also ask your instructor to participate in an information interview about his or her career.
Driving instructors teach students the rules of the road and the proper and safe way to drive. Instructors teach driver education at public high schools or through private driving schools. Instructors in public schools are often certified to teach driver education, but may also teach other subjects as well. Some instructors are contracted by schools to teach driver education. Private driving schools employ instructors on a full- or part-time basis.
Driver education is taught in two sections: classroom instruction and practical instruction. Topics covered in classroom lectures include rules of the road, signs and signals, traffic regulations, and basic operation of the car. Instructors also teach driver rights vs. pedestrian rights, proper steps to take during road emergencies, driving techniques during inclement weather, and defensive driving. Time may also be spent teaching students how to change a flat tire, or how to mark a disabled car. Another important topic covered during classroom time is the danger of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In recent times, instructors have also addressed the hazards of other driving distractions such as cell phones, text messaging, or using headphones while driving. Instructors use a combination of lectures, movies or slide shows, class discussion, and projects to educate students. Some high schools also present live presentations demonstrating the tragedies of unsafe driving, including staged productions of multicar accidents.
Once students are given a learner's permit, they are ready for practical experience behind the wheel. Some schools have auto simulators that allow students to test their driving skills without actually leaving the classroom. Such programs help students hone their techniques by navigating their "car" in traffic, making turns, and parking.
When students are ready to tackle the road, instructors rely on specially designed cars that have dual steering wheels and rearview mirrors, and brakes located on both the driver's and instructor's sides. Instructors teach students how to start the car, check for oncoming traffic, and navigate safely onto the road. Students are also able to practice braking smoothly to a stop, making turns, and navigating through traffic. Other skills, such as parallel parking, merging onto traffic, and driving the car in reverse, are practiced until the students become comfortable with these tasks. Students practice driving on various types of roads such as city streets, highways, and on rural roads to get a feel for different levels of traffic and speed. The instructor can also gauge the comfort level of students as they drive and use his or her own set of controls in case of emergencies. Other students often ride as passengers and take turns behind the wheel.
Once all requirements of driver education are met, and students are comfortable behind the wheel of a car, instructors suggest they take the state test to qualify for a driver's license. The duration of driver education varies according to the school. In public school, driver education can last one quarter to a semester during the school year or six weeks in the summer. Classes taught at private driving schools usually last anywhere from four weeks to two months. Requirements for practical experience, or time spent behind the wheel with the instructor, may vary from state to state.
Some driving instructors specialize in a type of vehicle, such as a commercial truck or motorcycle. They often teach individuals the skills needed to operate these vehicles for work purposes, such as driving a bus or semi-truck. Such instructors must be certified and approved according to the specifications of their state's department of motor vehicles. Commercial driving instructors are contracted or employed by commercial driving schools.