I was sitting in the school office being interviewed for the position of school bus driver when the question finally emerged: “Why do you want to drive a school bus?” I knew it would come and I knew the right words to say. “Because I love children,” I dutifully replied. The position was mine. I didn’t love children, matter of fact, didn’t even like them, but I needed the job. I had previously driven a school bus for about 18 years at a different location, and managing children, I felt, was the biggest drawback to the job. Needless to say, I was not very good at it. I decided I needed to try something different. I thought about it in the days before my new run would begin. In the past, no matter how much I yelled, screamed, threatened or shook my finger in the kids’ faces, I could never make them behave.
I’ll just pretend to like them
Let’s face it, once they were behind those high-backed seats, they could pretty much do what they pleased. Seat slashing and graffiti were common. I decided that I would try my very hardest to pretend that I liked the kids. Maybe, just maybe, if they thought that I liked them, they would behave better. On the afternoon of my first day, I launched my plan. Instead of sitting in the driver’s seat while the children boarded the bus from the school, I walked up and down the aisles and talked to the children. I heard many whispers — “Someone’s in trouble” and “What did we do wrong?” I stopped at each child and commented on how nice new backpacks were, how pretty hair was, how cool new sneakers looked. I asked the kids their teachers’ names. They were so shy that I thought maybe it wasn’t going to work. I was going to try anyway. I continued my new plan throughout the week. By the end of the first week, the kids were comfortable with me and were asking questions back. By the end of the second week, I would pull up in front of the school, open the door and place myself in a seat in the middle of the bus. I would be swamped with children. “Bonnie, look what I made; see my new book; look what my teacher gave me.” They clamored for my attention. When the time came for me to get behind the wheel and drive, I would say, “OK, down to business,” and lo and behold, I would be rewarded with a very quiet, well-behaved busload of children. They wanted to be good for me. Pretending that I liked them seemed to be working. Then the day came when I was in a terrible mood. I almost called in sick but didn’t want to use the sick day. I decided that I would just go and get my run over with. I pulled up in front of the school in a very foul mood. My first student boarded, and started chatting. With a heavy sigh, I got out of my seat, positioning myself in the middle of the bus. As the bus quickly filled, I was once again surrounded by the children. Before I knew it, the time came to drive. “OK, down to business” I said. As I pulled out of the school, I found myself smiling and humming, my bad mood all but forgotten.
. . . I really do like them
It was then I realized that not only did I like these children, but I had come to love them. I looked into my mirror at the well-behaved group of children that I had come to care for, and realized that a huge change had taken place. Not so much in them, but in me. I have come to the conclusion that the best way to get children to be good on the school bus is to make them want to be good for you. Although I stumbled on this very human approach by circumstance, it is guaranteed to work. There are some guidelines and responsibilities that go hand in hand with gaining children’s respect and trust.
Bonnie L. MacCartney is a school bus driver instructor for the state of New York.