Design Thinking,  Personal

Learning to Drive

My daughter got her driver’s permit, and now the state of California has entrusted me to teach her the rules of the road. (I truly think they should make adults pass a test showing that we are qualified for this important role!)

When she first started driving, she was extremely nervous and unsure of herself. Who wouldn’t be? Her knowledge of how to handle a 4,000 pound vehicle was limited to the reading she had completed in an online permit class and two hours behind the wheel with a certified instructor.

Our first time driving was around and around (and around and around) a parking lot at the local community college. It was a Saturday, and the lot was remarkably empty. There she learned how her car responded to steering and brakes. She practiced coming to a complete stop and signaling her intentions. When she was confident, we drove around the campus a few times so that she could practice adjusting speed and navigating turns. And then it was time to hit the streets.

Not even a block away from campus, driving through a quiet neighborhood, a BMW appeared behind us. Impatient with my daughter’s driving, he immediately started tailgating her and honking his horn. Her anxiety rose exponentially, and I could see every bit of confidence drained from her face. As soon as was possible, she pulled off the road. He honked as he passed, and she refused to keep driving.

A few weeks later, I ordered a magnetic bumper sticker from Amazon that read, “Please Be Patient Student Driver” . As she continued to learn how to drive, there were plenty of opportunities for people to be angry or frustrated with her. Her ability to maintain a consistent speed was sketchy, and she was painfully slow coming out of a turn. But remarkably, nobody honked at her. Nobody tailgated or cut her off.  They gave her space to learn. They slowed down and let her over when she signaled. And they smiled when they drove by. I’m sure they were just as eager to get to their destination as the BMW driver, but they didn’t show it. And her driving improved. And continues to improve.

It makes me wonder, what signs would our students wear if they could design their own? Would they ask for more patience because of a rough night at home? Would their sign acknowledge a struggle with reading? Or ask for more encouragement during independent work time? Our students may not be wearing signs, but we do know that they all need our patience and support and love as they learn to navigate their own roads.

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  • LMGirolamo – teacher, learner, parent joyfully living this life


    Laura, This is such a great post! Sometimes as teachers we are that impatient BMW honking and tailgating our students. I’ve always thought that we all have our ‘stories’ that people may not know…I love the analogy to a bumper sticker. On a more practical note, when my preteen starts the driving process I’ll be sure to get the Student Driver sticker! LOL

  • bakerwomen


    I wish in school I could’ve written one that said “please don’t take my disinterest personally. I just have a lot going on in my own head.” I hated seeing teachers frustrated because the lecture or project they put together did not interest me In the slightest.

    • Laura Spencer – San Diego, CA – I've been teaching since I was old enough to speak! Former high/middle school English and Yearbook teacher, I am now an edu administrator focused on transformative learning experiences for students and teachers. In my (not so) spare time, I also teach college courses on learning design, Ed Tech, and educational pedagogy.


      Alex, thank you. Your sign is so honest, and I also wish your teachers could have seen it.

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