Often when I see people these days, they ask, “How is the school bus driving going?” They know that since the beginning of this school year, I have been a substitute bus driver for the Ferndale School District northwest of Bellingham, and my guess is they think I’m collecting lots of stories from my experiences as a driver. It really is a good conversation starter, since whenever I talk to someone about school bus driving, they share about what things were like on their school bus growing up. It’s fun for me to hear that kind of stuff, since it’s not usually something you talk about with your friends.
In case you, blog reader, are wondering how the school bus driving has been going lately, I will tell you. For the first couple of months of the school year, I drove 3-4 days a week. Usually they would call me to drive someone else’s route for a few days, but every now and then I would get a special treat and they would ask me to drive for an athletic trip. I call this a special treat because
1) it’s easier than a route because I don’t have to make lots of turns and stops. All I need to do is take the soccer team somewhere and then take them back when they are done with the game.
2) there is at least one coach on board, which always helps with keeping the kids in line.
3) while the game is going on, I can do whatever I want. Usually I watch a little bit of the game, but spend most of my time reading on the bus. I actually get paid for doing this, and any time I put in after 5 p.m. is overtime.
But most of the time, I have to drive someone’s route. It’s tough driving a route for the first time, since I have a map, but it’s hard to look at it and keep the kids in line at the same time. So while I try to keep the kids from doing things like setting each other on fire, most of the time I’m not able to keep them in line quite the way their regular driver does. And I have to rely on them to know where exactly the stop is, because even though the stops are on the map, it’s hard enough to drive and make sure I’m making the right turn, let alone drive and make sure I stop in all the right places. So usually I recruit an older student to sit behind me and let me know where the stops are.
For the last couple of weeks, though, I have been driving a regular route every day. The driver of this route had surgery recently, and she’s going to be away from work until Christmas. They gave the route to me while she is gone. I must say that it is easier to drive a route that I am familiar with, with kids that I am familiar with. I also must say that although it is easier, it still isn’t easy. The middle schoolers can be defiant, and the elementary kids have trouble staying in their seats and keeping their hands off one another. The high schoolers are the best; they mostly just want to be left alone. A friend I was talking with last week put the bus driver’s situation best: he asked, “Where else in our culture do we put one adult in charge of forty kids, put all the kids behind the adult, and then ask the adult to do something else besides watch the kids?” Where else, indeed?