Doree Ward said that people have called her “The Driving Whisperer.” With a nickname like that it must be true, after all Ward has been teaching driver’s education for 36 years and 26 of those have been at Newton Senior High School.
Ward has few goals for teaching the course, but one stands out above all.
“I don’t want them to kill themselves,” Ward said.
She also listed off some of her favorite parts of teaching driver’s ed.
“Actually having them drive correctly,” Ward said. “Watching them get in the car with mom and dad after we are done and doing the things I just taught them to do and not reading their names in the paper for bad things.
“I had a former student come up to me at one of the malls in Des Moines,” Ward said. “She came up to me and yelled, ‘Ms. Ward, I just passed my CDL test, and it’s all thanks to you.’ I was like, ‘Me? I had nothing to do with it.’”
Ward said that the student had to parallel park, which is something she works extensively on with her students.
“’I just channeled you,’” Ward said the former student told her. “‘I just heard your voice talking me through the steps, just like we did in driver’s ed. I got through it on the first time.’ I said, ‘That’s good and it’s a good thing that I’m haunting you for the rest of your existence.’”
Ward has honed her craft after years of practice and offers a nurturing way to teach her students how to drive. She doesn’t berate them if they mess up, she encourages positive decision making and acts as a cheerleader when a student driver makes a safe decision.
Wednesday, sophomores Cragar Klingensmith and Albi Parker along with senior Eli Loshaw were practicing locating addresses around town under Ward’s guidance.
“I will not be grading you on how well you find the address, but on how you get there,” Ward said. “I will help you with address; the finding is not a big deal.”
When students are driving, Ward lets them dictate the route to take but asks them guiding questions like, “Which way do you want to go?” and “Are you sure that you want to go that direction?”
During another student’s turn, Parker informed Ward that he been practicing his parallel parking.
“I practiced parking between two trash cans last night,” Parker said. “My dad said that wasn’t going to work and got two cars out. That made me nervous.”
Ward reassured all of the students that she would be right there to help them when they practiced the maneuver later in the afternoon.
“I will always have my foot on the break,” Ward said. “Not that I don’t trust you, but safety first, always.”
After his turn to drive, Klingensmith reflected on how he thought he did.
“I was nervous,” Klingensmith said. “I did better than I thought I would. I want to be a better driver than when I started and not do bad things when I drive.”
With young drivers, nerves are always a factor, and Ward implements humor and personal tales into her teaching to relax students. She told stories about picking up road kill for another job and the time one of her driver’s ed cars was struck by lightning.
The course itself is five weeks long and Ward teaches it three times a day during that time frame. Ward said she teaches the course to help promote safe driving and insists that it isn’t about the money.
“I don’t tell you things that I don’t do myself,” Ward said to the boys after Loshaw’s turn. “I do them not because I’m the driver’s ed teacher, but because I like to.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.