Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More tales from the weekend.

Teaching motorcycle safety classes is never boring for me. Suits me just fine as I crave variety and new experiences. Or, as Katie says, guys just want something "different"! Each group of students has their own particular dynamic. Throw in the fact that I seldom work with the same instructor more than a couple of times a year and there's another layer of intrigue. I always wonder about that last part. There's only so many instructors in the mid valley. You'd think pure chance would dictate more duplication of teaching partners. For some reason there's always these last minute cancellations. Oh well.

Speaking of which, once in a while people come along who must be sort of unbalanced. This is evidenced by their desire to become instructors. They actually think it's a desirable thing to stand on hard pavement in the rain, cold, and blazing heat. These poor people have some sort of sick need to dodge motorcycles piloted by riders who move erratically and unpredictably. Not only that, but giving up perfectly good riding weekends to do it. As if life isn't hard enough already.

Stacy hung around and watched her second class. Poor girl is moving closer and closer to her doom. Now we have another one headed in the same direction. These people are actually smiling and happy about it! Come to think of it, maybe that's why I like them so much. We're supposed to be drawn to people like ourself aren't we? If we're going to be crazy let's be crazy together.

Anyway, I'd like to introduce you to Jeff.

Jeff is on the left. That's his R1200RT. On the right is Douglas, my teaching partner for the weekend. Yes, it's been a long time since I worked with Douglas. I tell you, it's tough having a reputation. I'm surprised they let me teach at all.

Sorry for the fuzzy picture. The camera lense was so cold I couldn't see my photo. I just shut my eyes and squeezed. Kind of like what a lot of our new riders do in the braking chutes!

It was a reunion of sorts for Jeff and Douglas. Jeff took our class a while back and Douglas was one of his instructors. On a serious note, let me say I really found myself liking Jeff. I met him for the first time Thursday night in the classroom. Throughout the whole cold weekend Jeff was cheerful and personable. I could see that he was taking an interest in the students and cared about their progress. If you think about it, that's a good trait for an instructor to have!

Jeff also braved the cold and snow by riding both days. He lives far enough away that riding on Sunday was a task. That's my kind of rider. Stacy's like that, too. Hmmm, I'm sensing a pattern here. Anyway, I'm pleased to have Jeff working on joining us. I'm also looking forward to working with him. At least once, anyway, until he joins the rest of the turncoats!

R.G. commented on my last post that he feels I have an uncanny ability to connect with people. It's really weird because I'm not a "people" person, per se. In other words, I treasure my own company and don't feel the need to be hanging out with others too often. Which perfectly suits a long distance rider by the way. Bear in mind, though, that I actually do have friends. They're crazy fellow instructors like me or cops. Anyway, being able to connect with people is a critical and vital part of becoming an effective instructor, in my opinion.

Think of it this way. What does a new rider need to succeed? They need confidence. Confidence comes from success. A brand new rider doesn't have the skills to achieve success. At least not at first. That's why so many are so nervous. The critical element is how well the instructor can quickly get the student to trust them. There has to be a great deal of trust in the beginning. I'm asking these people to do things above and beyond their current comfort level. I'm also telling them that if they do what I ask them to, it will all work out for the good. Once the student actually feels the success of doing something their confidence increases. Which reinforces their trust in me. The goal is to keep that process moving all weekend. I like to think I've gotten sort of good at that.

One of my methods is to use a little humor along the way. In the first night's classroom, for instance, I'll tell the students that we need for them to trust our coaching. I tell them that the instructors are motorcycle people. I tell the students that the motorcycles belong to us as part of TEAM OREGON. Therefore, the students can completely trust our coaching. After all, we'd never ask them to do anything that would HARM OUR MOTORCYCLES!

Here's an example of developing trust with a brand new rider. I was actually pretty touched by what the husband told me Saturday afternoon after classroom. Meet Marvin and Susan.

Marvin has a new FZ-1 sitting in the garage. He's exhibited great self control to avoid riding it until he's legal. He does, however, start it up about five times a day! Can't have the battery going dead can we? Susan expressed her reason for taking the class as learning to become a better passenger. She did hold out the possibility that she might actually find riding on her own to be fun.

On the first day of range we spend a lot of time cementing the basic building blocks. Susan had some issues with coordinating the clutch and throttle successfully in the beginning. I worked with her and we conquered it together. Another tool I make great use of is positive reinforcement. I deeply believe that students not only need coaching on what they are needing to work on, but some sort of feedback on what's going right, as well. Back to that confidence and success thing. When I see a student has been working on something and conquers it, we celebrate together. Some thousand watt smiles happen then. They're priceless. Such was the case with Susan.

As luck would have it, Susan ended up being behind Marvin for several of the exercises. Marvin, by the way, needed some tuning but has a firm grasp on good riding skills. Anyway, on the first break Marvin told me he could look in his mirrors and see Susan smiling back there.

"You don't know how much that means to me", he told me.

We finished the range day on a positive note and headed to classroom. When class was dismissed Susan went to use the lady's powder room. That's when Marvin shared more with me.

Marvin told me he was an ex cop, as well, having been with the California Highway Patrol before he moved up here. Fellow cynics recognize each other, I guess. Marvin said he tended to be over-protective of Susan. I know exactly what he means. Just let anybody look at Katie wrong. Marvin said he had gotten to the point where he could relax and leave Susan to us. Particularly to me. He wasn't worried about her anymore and could concentrate on his own training.

That's a huge compliment. It's exactly what we're trying to accomplish as instructors. I thanked Marvin for sharing that with me. Sophie's wheels hardly touched the ground on my way home.

Unfortunately, things began to unravel on Sunday.

On our snowy Sunday morning, everyone was there except Marvin and Susan. I wondered if they had enough snow at their place that they couldn't get here. Douglas and I stalled a bit getting started. Still they weren't there. The time came for the cut-off for late students. Still not there. I finally had to shrug it off and continue. Forty five minutes later they showed up.

It seems they had a family argument about whether to set the clocks forward or back for Daylight Saving Time. Susan held out for going back and won the debate. Too bad it wasn't the correct choice. It was too late to have them join our group. However, the afternoon group was short a few people. We arranged for Marvin and Susan to join them. There was some time to kill before the afternoon group started their morning classroom session. I expressed my disappointment that they would no longer be my direct students. Marvin expressed that they were going to go seek counselling while they waited.

Marvin did okay the rest of the day. Things didn't go as well for Susan. Several things could have come into play. Since they switched groups, other students were riding the exact same bikes that the pair had been using. It wouldn't have been fair to those students to kick them off their bikes. Marvin was on a TW200 and was moved to a DR200. Dual sport to dual sport worked out. Susan had been on a standard Suzuki GN125. We had to move her to a Kawasaki BN125 cruiser. Between switching bikes, switching instructors, and the greater complexity of the second day's exercises, Susan struggled. She didn't pass the course. Would she have done better had she remained in my group? I don't really know.

My ego wants to say yes, but the afternoon instructors are top notch, too. If the pair hadn't been able to switch groups, they'd probably have been sorta out of luck for being so late on Sunday. This way they at least had the opportunity to salvage some of it. I think Susan had a chance to explore in a safe environment and find out where she is in this two wheeled world. Her expressed goal was to learn more and become a better passenger. She accomplished that. Will the fun she had on the first day outweigh the anxiety she felt on the second? If so, she'll find a way to get where she wants to be. I'm sure Marvin will support her either way.

For now, all I can say is that I'm comfortable that Marvin will be equipped to ride his FZ-1 with a lot of competence. Having had the two of them as students added to the richness I've received from teaching.

I'm going to cut this post off here. Stay tuned. There's still the student who's been watching too many episodes of The Flintstones and another scooter tale. I actually rode the scooter for a bit!

Miles and smiles,



Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad:

This was a very interesting post on the behind-the-scenes lives of riding students. I think I would have done something absolutely outrageous when it came to settling the argument about setting the clocks though. I might have gone online, or listened to the news on TV, rather than risk gettig shut out of my class.

My girlfriend and I lived 30 miles from the test center. We checked into a hotel that was 2 miles away, so we'd be fresh and not have to deal with traffic on the way to the range. I was so excited about riding on the range, that I didn't want to miss a minute of it.

I disagree with you on one point: I see no humor in motorcycling.

Fondest regards,
Jack Riepe
Twisted Roads

-Tim said...

I think my favourite part about the team oregon trainging, was the last day of training, after testing..when you were able to just ride around the "block"...of course it was made up of cones...but it was fun...

fasthair said...

Mr. IronDad: If there is ever any doubt you enjoy this part time job this post dispels that. You've posted before about some of the fun things you DO in class. But I think this is the first time you have really posted about the things you get OUT of the class.

You need to be careful with your posts. Between this and the last one someone might start to think you are really a nice guy! I'm still not convinced you have any friends yet though. After all, everyone knows a Nomad never has any of those silly things called friends... my friend :)


Unknown said...

I can't wait to see a photo of Dan on a scooter.

I feel sorry for Marvin & Susan. I am positive she would have passed if she was still in your care, but Jack is right (not necessarily all the time, but this time), they should have checked on-line. I hope she is not going to be turned off as a passenger

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Dean W said...

While Dan was donw in Albany with beginning motorcyclists, I was up at PCC Sylvania (See photo of snowed out range in previous post- we were right next door) working with a different kind of student- beginning instructors.

My job was to do "error runs"- that is, put my skills to the test by acting like someone with no skill at all, compounded by responding as accurately as possible to the coaching I would recieve from the beginning instructors.

I'm not sure who had more fun last weekend- Dan, or me. But here's to all the people who braved some less than stellar weather to begin a new road.

Oh, and Stacy- be careful. If you think the riding bug bites hard, wait until you've spent a weekend helping someone else discover that feeling. ;-)

Stacy said...

Dean: I'm looking forward to it... now, if only someone from TO would return my emails... :/

cpa3485 said...

Dan, I feel some affinity to you for a couple of reasons;
1)We both commute regularly, it was 22 degrees this morning and I enjoyed the ride. And
2)we both are teachers.
It is pretty obvious how seriously you approach your teaching and I continue to be impressed with your posts because you display a great knowledge as well as some great teaching methods.
I have always thought that it is important to at least try and get into the student's heads a little bit and yet and learn where they are coming from. It greatly helps the overall learning experience for the student as well as making the teaching a little bit more enjoyable.
I teach adult students, not usually traditional college students, and it can be a challenge because they all have different levels of experience and abilities when they get to my classes. I assume that you face a similar situation.
I know, as teachers, we would all like to feel that we made at least some difference in the lives of our students. I know that I am able to connect with some students more than others and you can't make a big difference with everybody but I would bet that you are an excellent teacher.
BTW, in part because of you and some others, I recently bought some mesh armored gear for riding and feel that it is some of the best money I ever spent. You at least, through your teaching have had some effect on me, and I wanted you to know that.

Unknown said...

This couple obviously know how to stay together. Marvin could have found proof his wife was wrong and humiliated her, as well as being on time to class. Instead he let his wife "win" the argument, and he dealt with the consequences. Having done that many times over the course of my 22 years with my wife, I understand. :) Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war, or survive the fight.

It was sure nice of the instructors to fit them into the next session. I'm sure Marvin will enjoy his new ride, and Susan will probably make a great passenger. Good on 'em!

Dave T.

Baron's Life said...

This is an absolutely fantastic view behind the scenes. Although a bit long and windy..I did enjoy the article .
Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing mate.

American Scooterist Blog said...

I think she got what she was after; learning the best way to be a very good passenger. It strikes me that while We may wish her to become a rider, maybe it wasn't something she really ever wanted herself? Unless I'm reading this wrong, I'm guessing she did it for him. I think our wives know themselves better than we could ever know them. I say Good for her. If she really wants to learn to ride she will continue to pursue it. And if she does, you guys could not have given her more and better reasons to trust you.

Life is full of switchbacks. We just gotta learn to lean into em.


Canajun said...

Hi. Just found your blog (via Baron's Life). Brought back so many great memories of when I was instructing here in Ottawa with the Basic Rider's Course, and then the Advanced Rider's Course.
I think I've recognised at least one of my students in every one of your stories I've read so far. (Perhaps some material I'd overlooked for my own blog.)
Good stuff.