Published October 1, 2003
Mitch Hodana, 56
Title: Driving instructor
Employer: Michaels' Driving School Inc., Addison
Q. How did you decide to pursue a career as a driving instructor? Copyright © 2003, Chicago
A. A long, long time ago, a company I was working for went out of business. I remembered that the guy I took driver's ed from had had a lot of fun--he had a Mustang and drove with the top down. So I thought, "Why don't I give this a shot?" That was 30-some odd years ago. It gets in your blood. If you last a year, you probably won't leave it.
Q. What kind of training and education do you need?
A. It all depends on where you start your career. We do in-house training at Michaels'. We prefer someone with a minor in health and safety at the college level. But if the right person comes along, we'll start from scratch with them.
Training mainly involves studying the rules of the road, the rules the Secretary of State imposes, driving techniques, and how to teach. A lot of people think you just get in a car and teach--yeah, right! You have to know a few things! For example, suppose someone has never driven and they have to turn left at a corner. You have to be able to teach them how to approach the corner and what to do next.
Visual skills are the most important--driving is not a physical skill, but a mental skill enhanced by the visual process. You have to teach students how to be drivers and not pedestrians. Most people look 20 to 30 feet in front of them, but when you're going 40 miles an hour, you have to look farther ahead. And that is not comfortable for most people (when they're learning to drive).
Q. You usually start teaching adults. You spend about six months with adults and then you progress to the teen market--that's the next step.
A. You also have to get a certificate from the Secretary of State.
Q. What is a typical day like for you?
A. It's kind of nice because I can start whenever I want to. I make my own schedule. The class part of the instruction starts in the evening at 6 o'clock and goes to 8 o'clock. The class lasts for four weeks, two hours a day. You have to be enrolled if you have no classroom experience.
Before 6 o'clock is behind the wheel. Since I work with teenagers, I usually start between 2 and 3 p.m., whenever my student gets out of school--sometimes it's noon if they get out early. I either pick them up at home or at school, and we start driving from where I pick them up. I don't take them to practice in parking lots or cemeteries!
They have to spend six hours of time behind the wheel and six hours of observation time in the back seat watching--those are state regulations. Usually it's one hour of each (driving and observing) a day, but it varies. It might be just one hour a day. Students may stretch the instruction out over three, four or five weeks and some take as long as a year. Most kids want to get it done yesterday, but some take their time--they're not in a hurry!
Q. What do you like most about your job?
A. I'm a free spirit, so I like the idea of not being tied down to anything. I also like working with kids--it keeps you young. I was in a McDonald's the other day and I saw a guy about 40 years old. He said, "Are you Mitch?" I had been his instructor and he remembered me!
Q. What three attributes are essential to doing your job well?
A. First you have to have an excellent driving record. The Secretary of State is very picky about that. If you have two moving violations in two years, your license is gone and they won't approve you. And you can't have a criminal record.
You also have to like to work with people because there is so much one-on-one contact. And you have to have good communication skills because you have to be able to communicate ideas to your students. You have to find ways you might not have thought of to get a message across--using humor, for example--because it won't work if all the instructions are over your students' heads.
Q. What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career as a driving instructor?
A. One of the best things is to look into several schools and investigate the training program each school offers. Find out who does the training and ask questions of the driving instructors. Get input about how the training process works. These things are important because there is a lot to learn and the techniques you learn are very important. Without good training you're not going anywhere!
You also should check to see if the school has been around a while, and contact the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints.
Q. How did you decide to pursue a career as a driving instructor?
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune