Tomorrow, finally, I am going to take my road test. Yes, twentysomething with no drivers license- I feel like I’m in delayed adulthood here in Chicago. But as a native New Yorker, there was no reason for me to get my drivers license before. And now, now I finally am reaching this so-called milestone for myself. Just took a lesson this morning and am feeling good about tomorrow- YES.
I remember when I was learning how to swim (another thing I have not been able to do before college, really, along with riding a bicycle). I was scared to death that I would swim wrong, that I wouldn’t float, that I wasn’t stroking right, and I basically sabotaged myself. I was begrudging myself for never having the opportunity to swim, for being slower than the rest of the class, for constantly being at the shallow end when everyone else was at the deep end. At the end I swam okay, but today, I wouldn’t know if I would survive on the water if I were dunked into water. I can chill at the beach, but the pool still frightens me.
For driving, I was pretty much the same way- at first. I was mad, I was confused, I was scared, I was, above all, nervous. I was scared that I would kill someone. I didn’t want to do it, but I knew that eventually I would need to learn this skill- opportunities were and would be cut short because I couldn’t drive, and this was the time to learn. At first I started in a parking lot- the first day I felt really good as I drove on the main roads by the end. I felt like I conquered the road. Then, when things needed to be more technically sound, I was messing up- turning too quickly or too slowly, not signalling, not noticing the stop signs and not stopping when I needed to, crossing the white line, not looking at the mirrors when switching lanes, reversing when I needed to be driving (forgetting to change the setting, that is). And then I wasn’t ready for the road test- I finally got a lot of things down but felt like a failure when all those things weren’t coming together.
I realize now that learning how to drive, like learning how to swim, or learning any other skill in life, requires two things: mastery of the skill as well as an understanding of how to apply the skill. It’s not enough to master the skill if you don’t know how to apply the skill to the everyday. If I were dunked into water today, I could probably tread or float on my back just fine and stay there until someone threw me a float or a raft. For driving, it’s a lot more complicated as there are rules, good and bad drivers everywhere, people wanting to switch into your lanes, etc. I know now that all that comes with time. Being able to apply what you know and knowing what to do comes with the experience of knowing and selecting what’s important on the road- looking forward when you’re driving straight versus looking to your sides, looking to the right when you’re making the right turns, how fast or slow you should move your wheel based on the speed of your car, how big or small your car is, whether there are other cars around, what’s coming up, what signs are in front of you, where the lines are. And while now I am awesome at all the technical aspects of driving, I now need to focus on applying my new skills to driving. I get nervous not knowing what will come up in the road. As with everything in life, I have to learn to center myself, focus, and stay as much in control as I can so when something unexpected happens I am ready for it.
Hopefully I pass tomorrow. If not, I’ll have another chance later. I have to convince my students of this- it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get something now- there will be chances later, and mastery comes with time, experience, and application. With standardized testing and the breadth of curriculum we teach this gets extremely hard, to be able to go back to a topic when we’re supposed to be doing something else. But just as my instructor has been helping me focus on technical skills and application, I have to make sure my students are exposed enough and have enough chances to demonstrate their understanding before I try to move forward. That’s when they’ll respect my plan as a teacher for them and when they will do their best. I’m thinking of my kids with learned helplessness especially- if they never think they can do it on their own, and if they constantly blame themselves, their environment, other people who have had more experience, then they’ll never break out of their cycle. We strive to be lifelong learners, not perfect people off the bat —that’s impossible— and that’s what I must stress to my students.