It’s the first day back at school for many students. Teachers and their pupils will receive a lot of well-deserved attention today, but let’s consider the school bus drivers, who do a difficult job under stressful conditions and are surely underappreciated.
A driver of the familiar yellow bus has to be calm, alert, focused and sane when there is pandemonium on board and craziness all around. In large cities, rush hour is already toxic. Add 60 immature riders, including some who will cry and throw up, and you have an impossible situation. That’s before we consider any acts of willful misbehavior.
I never committed a climbing-over-the-seats violation and did not engage in screaming, spit wad launching, de-pantsing, tripping or lunch box stealing. Mostly I wanted to look out the window, and I had plenty of time for that once our family moved to Central Illinois and a home nine miles away from the school. Seven of those miles were traveled on a two lane rural highway across unbroken flatness, a treacherous stretch in the icy spring and whenever there was a wind, which was all the time. The bus stop was also exposed to that wind, which brings to mind some brutal winter mornings. A driver doesn’t have to do much to be a welcome sight under those conditions. Discipline problems went down in January.
For many of my middle and high school years, the bus driver was also the biology teacher. He was a good man and an excellent teacher who did the bus job for extra money. Because he spent the whole day, every day trying to get us to memorize the Parts of a Cell, he wasn’t exactly hungry for more student contact. His silences were deep and his stare was a physical force that could bounce off the overhead mirror and press a wayward child into the very back seat. That’s a useful power.
Some drivers are happy-go-lucky friendly types who try their best to make the trip non-traumatic and even empowering. My driver took it in the opposite direction. The threat of trauma was his strategic ally, and he wanted to leave a bit of doubt in our minds about what he might possibly do next. A well-placed glare and a low growl would do wonders to spark our imaginations and he knew we would picture acts of cruelty much worse than anything he could actually perform, even in those days before the introduction of cameras on board. Remember, we were driving over country roads. A body left in a ditch by a cornfield might go undiscovered for weeks, especially in Winter.
In spite of the fear, or maybe because of it, he got all of us there and back for many years with nary a problem. That’s quite an accomplishment!
School bus memories, anyone?