It takes a crazy person to drive 50 to 60 screaming, disrespectful kids to school every day, not to mention sitting with your back to them. How can you concentrate on all those mirrors, crazy drivers and emergency sirens and still see Timmy pull Kim's hair? After all that, you get up before sunrise and do it all over again. What gets you out of the bed in the morning? These are some of the questions people have asked me over the past nine years.
Most bus drivers wish that all parents could have one day behind the wheel of a school bus to see first-hand what a driver goes through every day. As for me, I wish that every parent could feel what I feel for these kids in my heart. I get angry and frustrated with them like I would with my own kids. But something happens deep inside me when I realize that for 20 to 30 minutes twice a day I am responsible for the safety of someone's most precious possession.
To touch these students, I have to be the best bus driver I can be. After all, I'm the first and last person in the education department that they see each day. What I do can have a tremendous impact on their lives. I have been responsible for more children than I can remember. The children I remember most are not the ones I have written referrals for, as one might think. They are the ones who ask me to tie their shoes; the ones who I have to remind to go to piano practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays; the ones who say to me, "Have a good day."
Among my favorites were brother and sister, Josh and Jeni. They made an impression on me because they reminded me of my brother and me when we were in high school. I will never forget Josh and Jeni struggling to get on the bus with crutches. It was funny to me that both had leg injuries at the same time. I asked them if anyone else in their family had broken limbs. Both of them laughed. My heart went out to injured Josh as I watched him take Jeni's bags to help her. My heart went out to Jeni when she left the bus almost crying after she and Josh got in an argument. Not a day went by when Jeni didn't say, "Have a good day." I looked forward to that. Josh never said much, but he always had a smile for me.
One summer came and went. I looked for Josh and Jeni, and they were not there. A few days later I saw Josh proudly driving Jeni and a friend to school. I would look forward to seeing them cross New Macland Road in the morning. I also looked forward to seeing Josh whipping around corners coming into Caley's Mill as I was coming out. He and his friend always waved to me. I don't think Josh and Jeni knew what an impact they had on me. As a matter of fact, I don't think any of the students know how much I care for them.
Or maybe they do. One morning (my mothering hormones must have been raging) I got on the speaker and told them how wonderful they all are, and that I love them. I thought about it later and said to myself, "What came over me?" However, after finding out that Josh's young life was cut short because of an accident, I am glad I said it. I can only hope that Josh was riding the bus the morning I made my announcement. I worry about Josh's friends and family and how they are coping. A student of mine, Danyell, said to me this morning, "It's like he [Josh] went on a long trip and left behind all of our phone numbers."
I only know the basics of what happened to Josh. I avoided reading the papers at the time. Josh was driving home from work one Saturday and lost control of his car. When he pulled over and got out of the car to investigate, he was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.
I think that everyone should be made aware of what a bus driver goes through every day and what an impact the students have on us. I ask myself why I drive this big cheese wagon with all the loud, obnoxious, disrespectful, sweet, wonderful, funny, smart kids. The answer is simple. I love these kids, and I love my job.
Jodi Westfall has been a driver for the Cobb County (Ga.) School District for nine years. She wrote this in memory of Josh Martin, 1984-2002.