I am a middle-school teacher for the Greater Clark County School Corporation in southern Indiana. Six years ago, I was asked by the principal to act as the liaison between the school and its bus drivers. Specifically, I was asked to work with the discipline problems that the drivers were experiencing. I was allotted one period a day to interact with drivers, students and parents and to make the necessary connections within our school system to ensure due process. Although I had ridden a school bus as a child and had served with a National Guard unit that provided security for a school system during desegregation, I had no other qualifications for the job. And, if anything, I had a classroom teacher’s superficial understanding of what bus drivers were going through. I suppose the phrase, “It’s not my problem,” summed up my “empathy” for the people I’d been asked to assist.
A new appreciation evolves
If a fight is brewing among students, drivers may pick up on it first. Good communication between drivers and school personnel can diffuse a volatile situation.
Alert bus drivers are the first line of defense against contraband being smuggled into schools (weapons, drugs, pornography, etc.).
Orientation begins on the bus. New students can go to the driver for information on who to see and where to go while at school.
If students are attempting to ride non-assigned buses, there may be situations where homes have become gathering places without the owners’ knowledge or permission.
Drivers can alert the school with their radios of an alteration of the normal morning traffic flow due to road construction or a stalled train or motorist. In turn, the school can hold up on taking attendance or keep open the breakfast serving lines in the cafeteria.
Drivers may know the students better than teachers do. In many cases, drivers have transported the same group of students since the first grade. Their insights and observations are important.
Drivers are spokespersons for the school and school system. They network deeply into the community, and their observations can influence the public perception of school administration.
Drivers are the first authority figures that students encounter each morning. The positive (or negative) atmosphere on the bus can set the tone for the rest of the day.
Through consistent and fair discipline, school bus drivers can earn the respect of their students. Application of disciplinary policies and procedures helps to deliver students who accept good behavior as the norm rather than the exception.
Six years have gone by, and my views have changed substantially. I now realize how important school bus drivers are to the total school picture. I’m also acutely aware of what they provide the school beyond the important task of transporting students. Here’s a list of my observations:
Drivers cannot be ignored
I now realize that a whole other world of professionalism, pride and commitment exists among my school’s bus drivers. Each adult who connects to the school changes the chemistry in some way. If my school is to be truly open to that reality, it must make a sincere effort to perceive and portray school bus drivers as partners in the process of shaping who our students become.
Ken Miller teaches at a middle school in Jeffersonville, Ind.