I was a driving instructor for 8 years… I was an Agony Aunt and had to deal with drunk, aggy, sweaty pupils

IF YOU have a driving licence, you will probably remember your driving instructor and what it was like learning to drive.

You might think that being a driving instructor is a pretty straightforward job, but it turns out that there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. 

Katie Austin, 33, a mum-of-two from Tatsfield, was a driving instructor for eight years and taught thousands of pupils to learn to drive. 

She was an instructor for WayFwd, a driving school based in Bromley, South East London and was just 23 years-old when she first started teaching.

Katie trained to be a driving instructor while pregnant with her first child and as a single mother, was working really long days to make ends meet. 

Now, ten years later, Katie is a small business owner, and tells Fabulous what it was like being behind the wheel for a living. 

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And if you think it’s a simple job, you’re very wrong – Katie explained that she had to deal with near crashes, clueless pupils, learners with road rage and even angry parents. 

Not only this, Katie was seen by her pupils as an agony aunt, with many telling her their life stories, with one girl even coming out to her as gay during a lesson. 

Katie told Fabulous: “The pupils would get attached to me. I was a pure Agony Aunt. I got told so much gossip. I made really nice friendships with people and they do trust you and they end up telling you things you probably shouldn’t know.

“I had a girl come out as lesbian to me and she hadn’t told anyone. What's even funnier, she had a boyfriend and I taught him as well. He would tell me that she was being distant and obviously I knew the reason why.” 

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As a single mum, Katie’s work was her likelihood and she wanted to prove to herself and others that she could be a success. 

She said: “I was teaching six or seven pupils a day. When my daughter was at pre-school, I would work 9am-12pm, then I would drop her to my mums at 4pm, and I would work 4pm-11pm at night. With some of the guys, I would work until midnight. I worked weekends too forextra money. 

“I had no choice, I was a single mum. I had to graft. I had the rent and a car to pay for.”

But it wasn’t just long hours that Katie had to deal with – Katie had a variety of challenging pupils that would regularly test her patience. 

She explained: “I’ve had to kick pupils out of the car. I’ve had to finish teaching pupils before.

“I had one pupil, I would turn up to his lessons and would sit there waiting, I would call him and nothing. I would sit outside his house and 20 minutes later he would come staggering out of his house. 

“He got in the car and stunk of alcohol. It was only 10am. I had to breathalyse him and he was way over the limit. I had to get him to get out of my car. 

“One other guy had an absolutely disgusting attitude. He would book a lesson and not show up. He thought I was a taxi – that happened on numerous occasions. A lot of pupils assumed I was a taxi service.

The pupils would get attached to me. I was a pure Agony Aunt. I got told so much gossip.

“I had to ask one boy to get out of my car mid lesson because he was so rude. He had four or five lessons and he thought he knew best. He would say ‘no, my previous teacher told me this, my teacher told me that, I know how to do that’. 

“I tried to explain to him how to use the clutch and the gas and he thought he knew and wasn’t listening. In the end I had to say ‘Look, if you’re not going to listen to me, can you just get out?’. And then I didn’t ever see him again.” 

If you’ve ever learnt to drive before, it’s highly likely that you would have been quite nervous. But not all of Katie’s pupils were like that.

Katie revealed that one of her pupils had serious road rage and would even swear at drivers if they tried to overtake.

Katie explained: “I had one girl, I formed a really nice relationship with her. But she had really bad road rage. She was overtaken at a roundabout and straight away, she had her middle finger up, out the window. 

“She would hold her horn down. She would shout at people. She would try to overtake. I had to really put my foot down and tell her to calm down. Most are really nervous learners but you do get the odd person that is billy big b***s.

“The younger lads would get in the car and think they would be whizz kids straight away.”

And there was more than pupil road rage that Katie had to deal with. One pupil that Katie taught just couldn’t get the hang of driving and eventually drove Katie to hand in her licence and quit her job.

Katie continued: “I taught this one guy. I loved him so much but he was useless. He was absolutely shocking, probably the worst driver I had ever had. It was awful. 

“He had had previous lessons with another teacher before me. All together he had about 60 to 70 lessons with me and then he went to learn automatic with my friend.

"As far as I know, that was going on for about a year. He would have had over 150 lessons. It was horrendous. 

“He never got to the test standard. He was the worst driver. He was one of the reasons why I quit. It was awful.

"I would get in the car at the start of the lesson and tell him to start the car, he would try and start the car and keep stalling. Over and over again. 

“He would get so stressed he would end up bright red and sweating. I would have to tell him to chill out and take five minutes. At this point we still haven’t moved, we were still outside his house. It got to the point where I would have to help him out and get him going. 

“Then ten minutes down the road, we would get to traffic lights and pure panic would set in. He would indicate, stop and stall.

"He was very heavy footed and very heavy handed. I said to him about four times, ‘I think you should learn automatic’, but he didn’t want to. 

“He was adamant he was going to stick to it. I dreaded every lesson. It was like a child driving a car, it was awful. He just couldn’t get the hang of it. I would tell him to go into second gear and he would go into fifth. It was horrendous. 

It was an emergency stop like I’ve never experienced before. The car behind us almost went into us and of course beeped us.

“I was almost six months pregnant with my son and we approached a roundabout and so I said ‘right foot on the brake’. Instead, he slammed his left foot on the brake. That left foot is used for the clutch and when accidentally put on the brake, it is terrifying. It's agony. 

“It was an emergency stop like I’ve never experienced before. The car behind us almost went into us and of course beeped us. My seatbelt locked, I had a line all down my neck and a mark on my hip and that’s when I thought it was enough and I needed to stop. 

“I told him I didn’t want to see him again and that was his last lesson with me. It was really bad. He was the worst pupil I have ever had, in my life. That was my finishing point, I had to pack up then.”

And this wasn’t the only scary experience for Katie – one of her pupils even tried to go round a roundabout the wrong way.

She explained: “I once had a pupil try to go round the roundabout the wrong way. We approached the roundabout, I told him to take the third exit. 

“He indicated right, as he was going to be taking the third exit, but for some reason, he started to pull off in the wrong direction. I had less than a second to take the wheel from him.” 

Although these experiences were terrifying and put Katie off teaching, surprisingly, she explained that she had never had a crash before.

She continued: “As a driving instructor, you have to be able to control the car, even better than you normally would, whilst in the passenger seat.

"So I have never had a crash, but I had to take the wheel and whack on the break daily. There were so many times that we could’ve almost crashed. 

“But luckily I was able to take over the car in less than a second. My pupils would never have been in danger because I could control the car. I would just reach and grab the wheel.” 

When asked what the worst part of the job was, Katie struggled to think. Although she had dealt with some strange pupils, her experience on the whole had been really positive. However, there was one pupil’s parent that stuck in her mind.

Katie added: “The worst part about the job is when you know that someone is capable of passing and then they fail. It’s gutting.

“I had a girl and when it came to her test, there was a fatal crash and they had closed the road. The only way for me to get to her test was through country lanes, which was an extra 20-25 minutes. Then there was a diversion as there was another crash. It was all over the news at this point.

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“I arrived at her lesson 15 minutes before the test started. There was no time. I got her to the test, she did the test and then failed. I went up and spoke to her mum and told her what she failed on, and she went ballistic. 

“She was in my face saying ‘I know it’s not her driving, you’re responsible for her, I’ve seen her drive, I know she’s a good driver, you’re the f**king c**t.’. She was screaming at me. I was terrified. I called someone that I worked with and was crying down the phone.”

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