St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/02/2011 : 1:00 PM
In praise of the older instructor
When I was at the banquet at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, a married couple received the Packey Rush Award. Packey Rush, I just found out, was the very first state coordinator of the IL state program and was so devoted to it he literally worked to the day he died. The award was established to recognize those who have given Outstanding Service.
Pete and Pat Mortensen received it this year. Pete, who was also ERC certified, had trained 1,115 students in 101 courses and Pat had trained 1,080 students in 97 courses in their tenure with the UIUC program. While many instructors have trained more students, these stats for the Mortensens only reflect the service they gave to UIUC they also trained in Indiana and Ohio. They could be the poster children for the "active instructor." And, btw, Pete is 76 and Pat is 62 years old.
They aren't the only couple that teaches either; Gil Heitka received an award for 4,700 students trained and his wife, Barb, for 2,700 students. Barb, btw, has been training in the program for 25 years. Gil works full time for the program at UIUC.
But the IL state program has a great many instructors that train extensively. At the banquet, a total of 63 received awards from 100 students trained to 4,700 students trained. I assume the other 68 are somewhere between award levels - they have to be:
IIRC, this particular region trains over 3,000 students a season, which runs from April to October. That's about 250 classes and require 500 instructors plus range aides, and UIUC has 131 active instructors. The average number then would be almost 4 courses per instructor over seven months. But this isn't untoward I would guess that most states have similar figures for their instructor participation.
And just who are the folks that make up the feet on the range corps? These pictures, while certainly taken by amateur me, are worth a thousand words (btw, if you double click on them, they expand):
[I have no idea what was lost here - JRD]
These are just a few of the faces and backs of balding heads of the typical rider instructor in any state across the nation. These folks are representative of the thousands of instructors who show up year after year, who are in the classroom, out on the range, helping students learn to balance, to work the controls, to ride. They are the ones who have not only the patience gained from years of experience but the experience of just how to teach that fumbling rider what to do to be successful. The vast majority of instructors aren't doing this as a full time job but in addition to rich, full lives. And when they retire they teach all the more. These are representative of all who have ridden, collectively, millions of miles in heat, cold, rain, who know more about bikes and maintenance and riding than all those who sit on the M$F trustees board or work at M$F.
If the heart of rider education is the instructor, then the face of rider education is a tad wrinkled and the hair is graying or going. They are, in a very real way, the program.
That evening, 14 new instructors were acknowledged and only 2 were under 40, but not by much both were in their 30's.
So it didn't surprise me that Sherry Williams, during the updates held in CA, talked about the national average age of instructors; it's 48. California instructors is slightly less - 45. Since the average of motorcyclists is just about the same, this suggests that instructors are representative of the motorcycling community.
It's not only UIUC then the middle aged and older instructor is the norm. Iow, if not for them, there would be far, far less rider instruction in the USA.
Not only that, according to state program administrators, it's the older instructors that are the most dependable, reliable and the most flexible in that they can and do fill in at short notice and often drive hundreds of miles to do so. In fact, it's the younger instructor that's more likely to give up teaching or not be able to teach often because of the demands of the rest of their lifetheir real jobs, their young families and so forth. John Sudlow, the administrator of the UIUC program told me that once instructors retire from their day job, they teach even more often.
If that wasn't enough, across the nation, it's the older instructor that keeps on teaching year after year, until, like the Mortensen's, they simply can't anymore. UIUC, for example, only has a 10% attrition rate and most of that from moving, which may very well mean their loss is another state program/region's gain.
As Sudlow told me, "If [instructors] stick with it two years, then we have them for a long time. When they invest in it, they stay in it." There's a lot of Barb Heitkas out there who have been in rider education for decades. Like Eugene Satrun and Fred Martin who still teach in the UIUC region; both of them have 3 digit M$F certification numbers, both received them back in 1978 and Satrun's number is below 500.
The bottom line then is: It's the middle aged and older instructor that has allowed the state programs to have done such a fine job of training over 3 million students. The state programs depend upon the middle aged and older instructor. And so does the M$F. In short, they only stand at all because they stand on the aging shoulders of giants.
So hats off to the middle aged and older instructor! My deepest thanks to you.
So it did surprise me when Sherry Williams immediately followed the information on the average age with this: "So we do need to recruit some young folks into the biz."
And that piqued my interest because of what she didn't say. She didn't say that M$F was concerned that there were would a shortage of instructors as they grew older and gave up training, therefore we need to get younger instructors. That at least would've been understandable. Clueless as to how rider education actually works, but understandable.
It also wouldn't have been as offensive and perhaps illegal if she hadn't gone on to talk about the gender disparity in rider educators: 85% of all instructors are male though CA, once again, is somewhat different since we have more female instructors "Particularly in the Bay area," Williams said. Okay...let's take that geographic reference at face value.
She then hastened to say, "That's not necessarily, you know, hammering that you can't have males teaching the course, obviously, or that we need to have more females, but what we'd like to consider is that the fastest group of our students is females [sic]...but sometimes it's nice to have a role model that you can respond to on the range. So again, we need to try to recruit young and female. Keep our RiderCoach cadre young and active and inventive."
Which, to me, tells me M$F has absolutely no understanding of who they depend on to deliver training, has not a clue about who is most active in the programs and exalts youth as a virtue in and of itself.
This last is hilarious to me since their own MIC stats show that those who are buying the bikes and the expensive ones are also in the same age range as those teaching them to ride. It also shows little to no understanding that older students may find it far harder to "respond" to an instructor that appears wet behind the ears. As anyone who's visited a doctor, for example, can testify, age alone can give the appearance of credibility and authority thus increasing one's ethos. But then ethos, like ethics, seems to be a foreign concept for M$F.
But it's not only a clueless attitude but pernicious because it's the older instructors that teach the most and are the most reliable and stay with the program year after year. That means that far more younger instructors would need to be recruited to keep up with the numbers that can now be trained. This is yet one more entry in the ever lengthening Consistent Inconsistency category they talk about increasing accessibility and availability on the one hand and then devalue the very people that can make that happen the middle aged and older instructor.
But it's not just devaluing the age of these instructors, it may be a form of age discrimination and that would violate state and federal laws:
It's clear that Williams was aware of discrimination issues when it came to gender hence her eagerness to assure the instructors that men could still teach the course even though females were the fastest growing student demographic. But notice that no such assurance followed either of her age discriminatory statements.
Let's look at that last instance in particular: Williams said, "So again, we need to try to recruit young and female. Keep our RiderCoach cadre young and active and inventive." The last,"Keep our RiderCoach cadre young..." is simply stupid as not even I would say that 48 is young. But it could be illegal to specify youth and gender as specific recruitment criteria. Particularly since all those present were instructed to specifically hone in on possible recruits who have those attributes. Note that neither Rob nor Sherry mentioned any actual skill in riding or ability to teach or personality as qualifications for instructor candidates.
Did Sherry simply misspeak and didn't intend to be discriminatory? That's not for me to say. It would seem that going on about it and making it clear that men could still teach, and avoiding bringing up any race/ethnicity aspect (since a) there's a very low percentage of minority instructors nationwide, b) the same thinking she proposes for women students would apply to minority students) shows that she was aware of legal issues with such discriminatory students when it comes to gender and race. But not age. And that goes, I think, to a fundamental belief at M$F that young is better something that's cultural and corporate and most likely illegal when it comes to employment. It's not like M$F could prove that the job requires youth or that young people do it better.
Whether Sherry simply misspoke or not, there is documentation in this recording that she, as an official representative of M$F, asked others to discriminate in their recruitment of potential instructors. That the selection regards age and gender rather than on anything that directly applies to what makes an instructor a good one is a very serious thing.
Which brings us to what Rob Gladden said about instructor candidates in CA: "We've had far too many candidates in the past year who've been riding 20-30 years that can't do a U-turn in the box." The reference to years riding makes it another age allusion and one that, without any attempt by Rob to nuance that, implies that the older rider is less skilled. As I said before, it's not like the 20-30 year rider couldn't learn to do a u-turn in a box and it's appalling that Rob would chose a convenience skill to devalue those older candidates.
But we already know how M$F is banging the drum slowly regarding older riders apart from instructors - so that, too, shows a disrespect for the shoulders they perch on both in terms of students and instructors and consumers.
Both Sherry and Rob, then, reveal the true attitude of the M$F towards the older instructor:
MSF doesn't value or respect the very foundation, face and feet on the range of rider education. This lack of respect for what makes rider education work in this country is unacceptable. Unforgivable. I keep asking myself, "How stupid can they be?"
But it's not stupid, is it? Because of course, you wonderful people will keep on teaching because you believe it's critical to do so, because you are who you are, no matter what happens. It's not like all those who are 45 and older will rise up and say, "no more until you change your attitude." Because you ARE riders and you don't give a damn what Tim or Rob or Sherry think. And YOUR state administrators are too smart to bite the hands that direct the students on the range I doubt very much if there's age discrimination going on in non-M$F administered state programs.
We all, of course, are well aware that M$F representatives including Buche and Ochs have stated on the record that older instructors and administrators were "dinosaurs" if they didn't embrace the BRC. Until now, I hadn't, at least, realized they meant the slur literally.
Whence comes this latest blatant youth preference and age discrimination? I can't say for sure but the following suggests a very good reason:
Later in her presentation, Williams went over some of the results of the online instructor survey done in February. During that portion of her presentation, she states that 7% of all the instructors who responded answered zero out of a possible 10 to every single BRC related question and she emphasized zero, zero, zero. Then she added that of 3% responded zero to how satisfied they were with the curriculum and how they enjoyed teaching it. Then she said that she had delved deeper into the data and discovered that the majority of those who dislike the BRC tend to be you guessed it older. "Of course older people have a difficult time with change," she said.
After that blanket generalization and further sign that M$F has little to no respect for half of their "RiderCoach cadre," Williams said she had a question for those older instructors that dislike the BRC: "So why are you still here?"
And what happened next, is beyond the pale - at least for me:
One of the instructors called out, "Can we counsel them out?"
And Sherry said, "Could we counsel them out? I *love* that! I *love* that! All right! That's your job go out and counsel out those. They're bringing down the - program for all of us."
So let's sum up what M$F has said about the older instructor:
Older riders aren't as skilled;
They are eliminated from the recruiting criteria;
They can't accept change simply because they are old;
They bring the program down;
Ergo, they should be counseled out unless they are rah rah BRC.
Hearing that so close to such a vivid experience of the reality of the heart, face and feet of rider education, it not only appalled me but it made me angry. How can these folks at M$F be so incredibly stupid, so short sighted, so exceedingly dense? The older instructor doesn't bring the program down - they ARE the program!
Which brings us to M$F itself: If young and female is the priority for "the biz," most of the senior management at M$F will never see 45 again. And they sure ain't active riders, let alone trainers, and only one of them is female and one of those "older" females. If M$F wants to practice what they preach, then they should all retire. Maybe we should counsel THEM out.
Ironically, Williams later brought up another question the instructor survey asked: Does M$F meet the RiderCoaches needs? 68% are at 7 and above, she said. But that isn't good enough - they want to meet your needs better.
Which got me to thinking, and this is just a guess, but, Sherry darling, I'd suggest not publicly proclaiming that M$F sees them as old, inactive and insensitively male and needing to be replaced by young, active and female might be a good start.