“Substitute bus driving is one of the hardest jobs ever, but it is so rewarding.”
Sure, the title of school bus driver isn’t exactly the sexiest one out there. When I was younger, I’ve always thought of the bus drivers who drove us around before and after school as cranky, embarrassing old people at best who maybe had hobbies besides driving the bus outside of school hours.
But after this experience I’ve had, I can understand why there is actually a school bus driver shortage as of late. I didn’t realize how much I had taken these guys for granted.
I remember when I finally got my 1992 Buick Century station wagon, complete with the wood panel trim and all – it was my ticket to freedom from the confines of the yellow tank filled with noisy students and limited legroom from all the equipment I was lugging around back in the day. I carried my 20-pound backpack and student violin case everywhere I went.
After getting my parking permits for the high school parking lot, I never really thought about school buses again until about 10 years later, when I found myself in a classroom at a facility where I almost finished my high school diploma. And that facility was Penta Career Center.
I ended up applying for a substitute bus driver position during my job hunt, and I was in the beginning stages of obtaining my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in the state of Ohio. I didn’t quite know what to expect, as I haven’t stepped foot in this neck of the woods for literally over a decade.
Instinctively, I sunk myself in the back row of the classroom as the instructor entered behind me.
“Oh no, this ain’t a church – you get to sit in the front seat!”
The first day wasn’t bad. I was in the room with a bunch of other rookies until the second day, where we had veteran drivers come in to get re-certified. Joe Dietrich was our instructor for the class, and he lovingly referred to the school bus he drove as “Big Yellow”. The veteran drivers filled the entire back row and ended up being about a third of the class. That was when things started to get a little real.
Joe asked, “How many of you guys have had a car pass you and blow your stop sign while you’re dropping off kids?”
Every veteran driver raised their hand.
Joe then showed us some pretty scary videos like a driver’s ed class should. But this time, after having a kid of my own and seeing some of these kids on buses die from cars that did not stop for school buses hit me hard. I was looking forward to putting PJ on a school bus to send her away for the day while I enjoyed the house to myself, but now I was terrified. What if my kid ended up in one of these accidents?
The general public AND the state of Ohio expects the school bus drivers to be perfect and nothing less. They are responsible for the safety of some precious cargo in a nearly 15-ton yellow metal tank that can cruise around at speeds up to 65 MPH on the interstate. That’s a huge responsibility these guys take on every day alone.
Not to mention that kids will be kids and do just what kids do. They are loud. They don’t pay attention to you. They do some pretty stupid stuff (like snorting Crystal Lite drink mix) and can be messy. Very messy. This job is not for the fainthearted. Or for those who value their privacy and space.
When you drive a school bus, you are basically a big yellow brick on the road. Anyone can and will watch what you do. Because you’re big and yellow and loud. You also have the school’s name conveniently right on the sides of your bus, so you are also a glorified Public Relations Manager for the school district you drive for. The parents will just think you are able to just work your magic and be little Johnny’s personal chauffeur… even though there may be 25 other kids on that bus.
I haven’t even started to drive one of these things yet, but just from taking this course, I’ve found a new appreciation for school bus drivers everywhere. You guys take a lot of crap to do a very important job.
So parents and guardians everywhere, be nice to your bus driver. Next time your kid gets on the bus, give them a note or a card to give to the driver that just says thank you for what they do for your child. You’ll have no idea how much that will make their day.
These drivers that are left in this line of work are not in it for the money – they are in it for the kids.
“Those are my kids.” one veteran driver said as we held our group discussions. “During the school year, you watch them grow up, lose teeth, get through some tough stuff. They grow on you.”
Even if I don’t make the cut to be a certified bus driver in Ohio, I’ll definitely take home these stories and experiences to bring awareness to other parents and friends of mine. At least I can be a bus driver’s favorite (or least irritating) parent from this experience someday.
**Special thanks to Joe Dietrich for giving me permission to write about my class experience! You can find out more about the Bus Driver Pre-Service Training Program he teaches here. Know a person who could be a great school bus driver? Click here for jobs in the Toledo area!**