We all know that the instructor plays a crucial role in maximizing the impact (and minimizing the discomfort) of any bus driver training program. That role starts with building the curriculum, designing the exercises and driving scenarios, and giving lectures. But it continues throughout each exercise, where the instructor can continually engage (and re-engage) individual students in the exercise at hand.
Ideally, in order to get the most out of your training program, you’d have one instructor per simulator. Unfortunately, most agencies can’t afford to implement that. Heck, in many agencies it seems like the single instructor is running around juggling three tasks at a time, even if they only have a single sim.
MTA Flint training instructor Dennis Hershberger has more than two decades of experience in simulator-based bus driver training. He’s extremely familiar with the benefits of one-on-one transit training. And while having a fully qualified trainer at each simulator, coaching the student for the entirety of every exercise would be fantastic, he also knows it simply isn’t the norm.
Fortunately, Hershberger has found that you can get some of the same advantages by having “sim buddies.”
The “sim buddy” can be almost anyone—another trainee, a support staff member, etc. Their role is to support the person who is working in the sim, keeping them focused on the exercise itself while monitoring for signs of discomfort. This frees the trainee up to focus on what they’re doing, as opposed to fretting over how they’re feeling.
Using Small Distractions to Improve Bus Driver Training Engagement
The sim buddy has four key responsibilities:
1. Determine Initial Discomfort/Anxiety Level: Check in with the trainee when they get into the sim. No need to draw attention to the trainee’s level of hesitancy. This is just a quick “How you doing today? How you feeling? OK, good. Let’s get going!”
2. Reassure the Trainee: Acknowledge that the trainee will likely feel a little funny as the exercise starts, but that’s normal and no big deal. Hershberger insists on using the phrase motion discomfort. “I never use the words ‘motion sickness.’ It’s just discomfort.”
3. Be Present to Support: Point out that you can kill the screens on the sim any time that motion discomfort becomes distracting. Then, throughout the entire exercise, stand right next to them. (This close presence subconsciously reinforces the fact that they can bail at any time, lowering anxiety.)
4. Break up the Exercise: Keep talking, offering simple words of support—things along the lines of “Nice” or “That’s good” or “Smooth,” even small talk (“How was your drive in?” or “You have lunch yet?” or “You have weekend plans?”)
This ongoing chit-chat is extremely powerful. On its face, it’s the sort of distraction we might discourage during behind-the-wheel training. But, by creating the slight annoyance of this distraction, you force the trainee to consciously re-focus their attention on the exercises, instead of giving them room to focus on (and thus magnify) their own discomfort. (If that discomfort does spike, just shut down the screens and let them take a few deep breaths.)
“But just talking to that student,” Hershberger says, “keeping their mind on the exercise itself, that’s the key to not wiping them out in the sim.”