William Ingram explains how he uses the pressurised situation of driving instruction to his advantage.
After six years in the IT industry for an international call centre, I had to re-think my career path due to redundancy. Being 40, which is a barrier to employment as many would testify, I also have a stammer. Interview after interview; one begins to believe that it is either the stammer or the age that puts employers off.
A friend, a driving instructor from Gateshead, suggested that I should try driving instruction. I laughed at the notion of ever contemplating this, but I did sign up for a course with Foxhills Driver Training to be a self-employed instructor.
Directions are given in good time to allow the pupil to respond, which gives me time to adapt if there is a problem in my speech
The course is geared towards passing the exams for the Driving Standards Agency (car). There are three exams; the theory test, the ability to drive, and the ability to instruct. Anyone with a stammer should have no difficulty with the first two exams.
The training gives a lot of knowledge in driving technique and requires a lot of talking to your trainer. The structure of a lesson usually starts by giving a briefing to the pupil, i.e. your trainer, on a driving technique. The training sessions were done in a relaxed, calm manner because one characteristic that a driving instructor should have is to give the pupil an air of confidence in their driving. I soon realised that directions are given in good time to allow the pupil to respond to the command, which also gave me time to adapt the direction if there was a problem in my speech. As for the command 'stop', this should not be given as it would result in a pupil applying the brakes. The command 'wait' should be used instead. 'Wait' is an open sound that does not cause me any problem.
During the part three test, the ability to instruct, I was nervous and found that my speech faltered, not so much stammering, but fluttered in hyperventilating breaths of forced speech whilst still being in control of the situation. In my experience, if I am not in control of my construct then my stammering is worse. However, if my stammer was a problem, this would have shown during the exam. This certainly would have resulted in a test failure, as it would have been dangerous for the pupil and instructor.
The actual test was to instruct a partially trained driver to right reverse. Since I was teaching the subject, I had a good idea what to say and when. There was a lot of talking about which way to turn the steering wheel, followed by questions and answers to encourage the pupil to take responsibility. The second phase of the test was emerging from T-Junctions. This required me to be ready to take control of the lesson by watching for the driving faults, and quickly correcting the faults before they became unmanageable. One instance, the examiner was about to emerge out into a busy street without taking effective observation, so I shouted: "Wait, have you really looked to the left before emerging?" With a real pupil, the pressure a driving instructor is under is great, so you have to act before the situation becomes dangerous.
If I am in control of my environment, then speech is not really a problem. I see car tuition as a controlled environment because I can hide my speech in a ray of confidence backed up by knowledge and experience, which helps to overcome the stammer.
I am now working towards having my own driving school in the near future called SteerUK Driver Training.
From the Summer 2005 edition of Speaking Out