The pupil transportation community is full of good people who understand and relish the awesome challenge of transporting schoolchildren to and from school — but it could always use more.
With that thought in mind, I relate the story of a young woman who has become disillusioned with this industry despite a lifelong love affair with school buses.
This woman, not yet 21 years old, already has two years of experience as a bus driver at a school district in California. She is highly intelligent and committed to a career in pupil transportation.
So it is with astonishment that I hear news that she is often discouraged from pursuing her chosen vocation and has even been denied the opportunity to interview for bus driving positions in her Midwest state.
Are drivers in abundance?
Although the driver shortage has lightened in many areas because of rising unemployment rates, it’s still a rare school district or contractor that has the luxury of turning away qualified applicants without even bothering to interview them.
Having met this woman at a pupil transportation conference last year, I can certainly understand why a school bus operator might not take her interest seriously. She is, for lack of a better word, petite and appears even younger than her 20 years. In fact, she could pass for a sophomore in high school.
But her skills and experience belie her appearance. She not only has driven a school bus professionally, she also owns her own school bus and has driven it between California and her home in the Midwest. A more devoted school bus aficionado would be hard to find.
That doesn’t mean she should be hired without the proper screening and testing. It only means that she has the experience, ambition and, most importantly, devotion to become a star performer at any school bus operation.
After all, there is no perfect size, gender or age for a school bus driver. They come in all shapes and sizes. Being older or larger doesn’t guarantee a driver greater success. In fact, those who are small often are more experienced in overcoming adversity. Remember Muggsy Bogues, the 5-foot-3 fireplug who played in the NBA? Or Spud Webb, the 5-foot-7 phenom who won the 1986 slam dunk contest at the NBA All-Star game? Often there is no correlation between size and success.
Heroes come in all sizes
When I was in the eighth grade, my school bus driver was a classmate’s mother. I remember her clearly because she was rather short, slight and, consequently, did not cut an imposing figure in the driver’s seat. (She also had one brown eye and one green eye, which we all found fascinating.)
Her size was not a factor, however, because she knew how to control the vehicle and her passengers. She was friendly but tough, when necessary. I don’t recall ever having a problem on her bus, and, let me emphasize, we were eighth graders.
A couple of years later, she was featured in a local newspaper for her heroic actions in evacuating her bus, which had caught on fire. I wasn’t surprised. Like I said, she was tough when she needed to be.
It’s tempting to judge people on their appearance. In fact, it’s often unavoidable. After all, we’re human and we all have biases. But it’s neither fair nor wise to dismiss people without giving them a chance to prove themselves. At least give them the chance to interview for a position. And if they meet your requirements, have the courage to offer them a position. Eventually, they could make your life a lot easier.