It doesn't matter how old you are, and it doesn't matter whether you're a 30-year veteran or a new school bus driver; attitude matters. I can't count how many times we've heard veteran drivers speak of the "good old days" when it was acceptable to throw students into a seat - or throw them off the bus. Drivers used to make unruly students ride in the stairwells, and some even used physical force on children. I can remember my bus driver from 25 years ago, cigarette dangling from his lips, unshaven and intimidating. Thus, the public's perception of the school bus driver is not completely without merit; it's based on what people remember.
Will the parents of the children we are transporting today have the same type of memories? Is this the fault of the driver? No, drivers in the past did as was expected, and did it with much less training and education than we enjoy today. They didn't have it easy as they paved the way for today's drivers, and we are grateful for their experience and accumulated knowledge. Through the years, however, the school bus driving "job" has turned into the school bus driving "profession."
Unload the stereotype
Depending on which state we drive in, we meet many standards to obtain and maintain our status as school bus drivers: special licenses, annual physicals, fingerprinting, random drug-and-alcohol screening, physical performance testing, written exams and annual road tests are some of the things that come to mind. New drivers will tell you that they are surprised at how much effort it takes to become school bus drivers. Yes, they must meet stringent requirements, but they are doing it successfully, and if you look closely, you will see their pride growing as they clear each hurdle. More importantly, training has improved as well. Student management, positive reinforcement, dealing with parents and dealing with violence are just a few of the topics covered to help us become more professional. Whether a veteran driver or a rookie, the New Generation driver thirsts for knowledge and is eager to try new ideas. Drivers with the Old Generation attitude, however, believe that they already know all that is needed. They believe "kids these days" are spoiled, violent brats who need to be put in their place. This driver, needless to say, ends up frustrated and, more often than not, unsuccessful when it comes to maintaining a cooperative environment on the bus.
There is nothing more frustrating than to see drivers who exhibit Old Generation attitudes, or anything so refreshing as a veteran driver who is embracing new ideas. Any new driver worth keeping will appreciate that it is not as easy to get into our profession as they thought. Those who don't want to make the effort will be better off in a different industry anyway. Wouldn't it be a wonderful idea to make veteran drivers, who have embraced their training and shown themselves to be good student managers, temporary mentors for the new hires? Not only would this ensure that new drivers would be getting positive advice from their peers, being chosen as a mentor also would give the positive veteran drivers a "pat on the back" that they need and deserve. As the children we are transporting today grow up and entrust their own children to new school bus drivers, only then - when today's pupils look back at the caring, professional way we did our jobs - will the stereotype start to disappear. The Old Generation image was created within our industry, and the New Generation school bus drivers will be the ones who change it.
Bonnie L. MacCartney is a bus driver at Lowville (N.Y.) Central School District.