WABASH MAGAZINE | SPRING/SUMMER 2004


Driving Lessons

By Doug Calisch
  July 12, 2004

RELATED
• Driving Lessons
Calisch Wins Excellence in Teaching Award

In a flash we both knew something was not right . . . the truck did not slow. The clutch had been our "pedal of focus." In my meticulously detailed lesson, I had neglected to reconfirm the role of the brake pedal.

 

 

Professor of Art Doug Calisch is this year’s recipient of the McLain-McTurnan-Arnold Excellence in Teaching Award.

 

 

 

 

      
Bobby Riggles, then an art major and soccer player, worked for me as an intern studio assistant in the summer of 1992. Because my work was set up at my home studio, Bobby was riding his bike the 13 miles each morning, and I would drive him home each evening.

At some point during the internship I decided to teach Bobby to drive my stick shift truck so he could drive himself home in the evenings and back each morning. One hot July day we took a mid-afternoon break and drove to a remote country road where I did some of my most focused and impressive teaching—clutch, four-on-the-floor, gear-shift patterns, gas—the whole thing. I made a handout, drew diagrams, got out the owner’s manual, and talked (lectured) him through the whole process.

When I felt comfortable, we changed seats as I preached the  lesson one more time. Bobby found first gear and with a jolt we were off. Slowly gaining speed, he shifted into second, then semi-smoothly into third gear as we approached our first intersection. With all the newfound self-confidence of a bird taking first flight, Bobby moved boldly toward the intersection and, at the appropriate moment, applied pressure to the CLUTCH pedal.

In a flash we both knew something was not right . . . the truck did not slow. The clutch had been our "pedal of focus." In my meticulously detailed lesson, I had neglected to reconfirm the role of the brake pedal.

We flew into the intersection, swerving to miss an oncoming van, left the road and wrapped the truck around a telephone pole. An ambulance ride and too many stitches later, we apologized to each other and reconfirmed our commitment to the summer studio work—arrived at via bicycle.

That experience continues to inform me as a teacher. The scar on my forehead reminds me that a good teacher needs to build on the basics, reintroduce how new ideas grow from a foundational understanding, find ways to monitor how students are reacting to new information, and find the right method of delivery. And don’t be concerned with impressing yourself.

A year later Bobby needed a reference letter to graduate school and I was happy to write a letter of wreckomendation on his behalf.


 

 


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