Andy’s Driving School’s latest instructor is tough, ballsy, and frank. And female. That’s right. Shama Bergeron-Marcellin is breaking barriers. The thirty-one year old is shattering stereotypes in the traditionally male dominated field of driving instruction. Bergeron recently became the first certified, practicing female instructor on the island. It seems like an odd career choice for the mother of two, who also pulls down double duty as a gym administrator, but she revealed that it was right up her alley. Practically her birthright.
“I have been involved in driving since I was conceived. My father (Andrew ‘Andy’ Marcellin of Andy’s Driving School) has been a driving instructor for thirty something years. It’s the company that I work with. And my mom back in the day was his secretary. So I was always in there.”
However, being the boss’s daughter didn’t translate into preferential treatment. Instead Bergeron was served a dish of tough love.
“Actually I learned to drive legally. My father was the type where the boys got advantages and the girl had to work hard for everything she wanted, so I had to go get a job and pay for my permit and then my father gave me classes for free. I spent a year in driving school because I could not afford to pay for my exams or my license and my father was like “no, you have to do it on your own”. And actually I am happy for that. I did it on my own. I got my license when I was eighteen.”
Bergeron had no aspirations to continue in the family business and instead focused on raising her daughters, Shian, 16 and Gabrielle, 4. Then an unexpected request changed her charted course.
“My father one day said, “I need a driver. Go teach.” I was like, “I don’t want to teach anybody to drive. And he’s like, “What? You have a license. You’ve been in the business forever. What is preventing you from teaching?” And back then it was manual, which I hate. I did not like driving manual, at least back then. I just had to do it because daddy said so. And that was the beginning. Then automatic was implemented a few years ago. So I moved into teaching automatic from there.”
When Bergeron caught wind that a certification course was on the horizon, she jumped at the opportunity to make it official, despite the rigors of the process.
“We have three exams to do. A theory of a hundred questions, and you’re supposed to score 96%, and then a competency to drive, which is basically the same practical exam that a student would go through, but they expect more of us. Almost no mistakes on that exam. And then the last is a competency to teach. That one as well you have the two examiners. One drives while you instruct. And the second one would tell you what they would like you to teach the student and also go through how you would point out their faults and what not,” she explained.
She admits that it was a bit difficult for her, despite her lifelong involvement if the business.
“I failed my first theory. I got eight wrong out of a hundred. Cried myself to sleep that night. I think it was because I went in there thinking I knew too much. Everything went fine the second time around. The first practical was a piece of cake because I mean you drive all the time, you teach all the time, so you know what is expected of you, you know what to put out. And once you have the good habits in you it’s not a problem. The last one however was nerve wracking because you have two persons in the vehicle with you who, although you have a professional relationship with them because they are examiners, you also have a little bit of a personal relationship with them, you could crack jokes and laugh. And when you’re put in that situation it’s sort of hard to differentiate between that professional and personal side. Because here they are, so serious and it’s for me, it’s not for a student. So the last one was the hardest of all.”
Bergeron was one of three women who took the exam, but remains the only one active in the field. She has a theory on why more of her female counterparts aren’t pursuing this particular line of work.
“Confidence. We live with a mentality that women cannot drive. I think a lot of women believe that they are not able to do it. And I think women are the best instructors because they have more patience than men in most cases. And it is a job where you have to have an incredible amount of patience. Some people can make you go crazy if you’re not careful. But I think it’s really a lack of confidence in their own skills. And them thinking that it’s a man’s world but it’s not.”
She admits that she has encountered some resistance from potential students but remains undaunted.
“Woman cyah teach me to drive! Are you crazy? I eh going in car with no woman!” she laughs recalling some initial reactions. “And then between them leaving my office and my drive to Vigie some of them would say, “yeah, I want to drive like that.” And then it’s a turnaround. But you have those that are adamant that they don’t want to drive with a woman. On the other hand, I have found a lot of people who want to drive with a woman, a lot of people who feel uncomfortable with men. You have a lot of husbands who don’t want their wives driving with men. So I do have a market.”
Behind any strong woman is a good man and she professes that her husband Dominique is the best of the bunch.
“He’s been incredibly supportive.”
Bergeron is already anticipating the day when her own youngsters get behind the wheel and she insists that she will not mete out the same treatment she received from her father. Albeit for entirely different, potentially self-serving, reasons.
“I don’t think I will be that harsh with my kids. But they will have to understand that it’s a big responsibility having a license. I would probably pay as long as they behave themselves and they show that they are responsible enough to handle a license. I would encourage it. There is that freedom in having a license. I could use it to my advantage. The big one could pick up the little one from school,” she shared conspiratorially.
The Leslie Land resident hope that her story inspires other women to consider the profession.
“Go for it. Learn as much as you can, don’t figure that it is a man’s world. Driver’s license says just that. It’s not a man’s driving license or a woman’s driving license. So anybody who wants to go for it should just do it. It is a fabulous occupation. There’s a lot of freedom in it, which is why I think I have stayed in the business and I feel comfortable in it, because I could set my own times, my own schedule. But you have to have a lot of patience.”
In the meantime, Bergeron is happy to be the trailblazer. Within the speed limit, of course.