Driving instructors teach students how to operate a motor vehicle through classroom instruction and on-the-road practical instruction. Instruction includes state driving laws, how to avoid accidents, defensive driving skills and basic traffic courtesy. Most instructors work in secondary schools and mainly teach novice drivers.
There are differences between driving instructors and those who work for professional driving schools, said Mike DeMay, president of the New York State Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association.
For example, he said, driver education instructors must be certified teachers. Driver education programs are more extensive, DeMay said, requiring 24 hours of classroom time and 24 hours of “in-car” time. The latter requires students to be behind the wheel for six hours and spend 18 hours of “watching” time, watching other students drive.
Successful completion of a driver education program helps students obtain a senior license sooner and can help with insurance costs. (Note: Some rules differ between Upstate New York and New York City.)
A clean driving record and no criminal record are required to become a driver education instructor. The same goes for qualities such as patience (“of course,” DeMay said), having a gentle demeanor and being able to adapt quickly to circumstances.
“You have to be on the ball,” DeMay said. “You worry about what your kids are doing and everything that happens on the road.”
Instructors must also “be good teachers” able to present the material in different ways, depending on the student. DeMay teaches health and physical education in the Fairport Central School District and has been a driving instructor for 25 years.
He noted that some driving instructors oversee the classroom portion, some do the on-road portion, and some do both.
As noted, driving instructors in New York State must be certified teachers who complete a 30-hour certification course that includes an “Introduction to Driver Training” and safety courses. Binghamton’s Broome Community College handles most of the certifications, DeMay said.
Those who meet the requirements are then certified by the state Department of Education. An annual conference is held, but no additional training is required beyond initial certification, DeMay said.
Conversely, professional driving school instructors are certified by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
What work brings
Driver education instructors typically get paid $32 to $35 an hour, DeMay said. Four sessions are held each year. While it may seem like most driver training vehicles are on the road once school is out, courses are available year-round.
“Students take it whenever it fits their schedule,” DeMay said. “We have classes of 48 and we have waiting lists.”
The photo of the work
“We’re having trouble finding people,” DeMay said. “They are getting old.”
Last year, because of COVID-1, driver training programs were shut down, DeMay said. Earlier this year, when COVID fears were still prevalent, some high schools offered driving lessons, with parents responsible for in-car instruction.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates job growth at 12(CQ) percent through the end of the decade for all people in “self-enrichment education,” including driving instructors.
“You have to let (students) know it’s a process, stay calm, watch intersections, and react to what people are doing,” DeMay said.
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Alan Morrell is a freelance writer based in Rochester.