Opinion & Editorial

In praise of school bus drivers

I’m in a small room with a small table. The air is a little thick and I notice that every sign on the wall has to do with safety and treating children with respect. There are six chairs and 11 school bus drivers. Most are standing shoulder to shoulder.
There is typical banter among a group of people who have been through a lot together, that seemingly know each other well and that share a common purpose and goal.
Even though the purpose of this meeting is for safety, there is an underlying dedication and commitment to safety that transcends the conversations. Safety is sacred. It seems like even the bus itself has a special meaning. It is well equipped and designed to deliver children safely.
To become a school bus driver it requires you to get a physical exam, a Commercial Drivers License, pass an federal background check, become first aid certified, put in at least 40 hours of on-road driving instruction, a three-hour driving test, may need to learn hundreds of children’s addresses within a series of different routes, attend annual continuous education classes about child interactions, laws and safety. The pay scale for a school bus driver in the USA is anywhere between $9 an hour to $23 an hour. Most drivers get about six hours a day of paid work.
The state requires bus drivers to inspect the bus before it can be driven. This pre-trip inspection process could take 45 minutes to an hour, and the drivers seem to appreciate the requirement. Once the bus is deemed safe, the loading and unloading of children is a huge concern. There are constant reminders from the bus driver about running toward the bus or making sure the students are walking up the steps using handrails.
The most dangerous time for students is when they are around the outside of the bus or the student is doing what they call crossing over. Crossing over is when a student must cross the road. Drivers alter their route by adding hundreds of miles of additional driving every year so that they can avoid crossing kids over.
Imagine driving a vehicle that is barely big enough for the width of the road and is longer than three cars. The bus driver is navigating the uncertainty of the road along with the children. An incredibly difficult task.
A post by a parent on Facebook was complaining about their child being picked on while riding the bus. One of the comments asked, ”What was the bus driver doing while your child was being picked on?” This is the criticism that this group gets.
There seems to be some misunderstanding regarding the challenges and difficulties drivers face. Even with this criticism the group took it seriously and discussed what they could do better.
It seems to be that the core values of this group are safety, consideration to students and parents, and discipline. The consideration for students and parents was surprising because it goes way beyond what I expected to see.
There are students who purposely sit in the front of the bus to engage in personal and complicated conversations with the bus driver about the challenges that they face as students. The bus drivers seemed to listen and provide thoughtful, appropriate advice. It made me wonder how many children bus drivers have saved from things like suicide, dropping out of school or saying no to drugs. They didn’t ask for this role of an unofficial counselor.
The desire that these school bus drivers have for connecting with the students is familiar to me however I was surprised to learn how much detail they know about the individual students that ride on their buses.
It goes way beyond just knowing their names and where they live. In many cases these drivers seemed to understand their social status in school, whether they seem happy and all the drivers show genuine care about the individual students, even the difficult ones.
Everybody in America understands the horror and tragedy that comes from school shootings. There have been attempts by people to board school buses with the goal of shooting children. These school bus drivers are not only trained in first aid, but they have conversations about how to handle such an attack. It is safe to say that this group is willing to put their lives on the line to save our children.
This group has a challenging job, does it with grace and in a way that you would never notice how difficult it is. It’s done because kids need a safe way home. This group does it because our kids matter.

Bryan Jochumson originally wrote this piece for a college sociology class.



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