In his February editorial, SBF Editor Steve Hirano posed the following questions to readers: Are great special-needs bus drivers born, or can they be molded into greatness? And if they can be molded into greatness, how is that accomplished?
We received many insightful responses. Here's a handful of them.
As the transportation coordinator for Ulster County's [N.Y.] preschool special-needs children, and having been in the transportation/education field for more than 30 years as a driver and secretary, I feel that Steve's article is well worth responding to.
My father (a driver for 28 years) always told me that it was a gift that I could drive school bus as well as I could. I firmly believe that bus drivers cannot be molded into greatness — they must have a very strong inner something in order to add to their gift over the years.
I once gave a presentation called "Anyone Can Drive a School Bus, But Not Everyone Can Be a School Bus Driver!" There's much more to it than the driving skills, especially for special-needs students. If a driver doesn't have nurturing qualities to start with, I believe they will only be able to drive and perform their duties for their "job." However, if the driver takes a genuine interest in the child, then their "career" will be in the transportation business. When driving a bus, I always greeted the children with, "Good morning. How's it going?" High schoolers generally didn't respond, but a couple would say "good morning" back to me.
Students knew I cared about them when I took the time to find out why they were acting out. There was always something going on in their lives that influenced their bad behavior. As drivers, we were sometimes the first adult to greet them in the morning and the last adult they would see in the afternoon until parents came home from work.
You can only mold something that is flexible — rigidity will not work. The moldee must be willing to go the extra mile for their charges.
Steve's article raised some excellent points. I know that in a perfect world you would like to have efficiency and a sense of caring by the bus drivers. I know that when I travel through Mississippi observing transportation operations, I find that many of the bus drivers who transport special-needs students really do care, and the students have special feelings for the bus driver.
Drivers should have that caring attitude. Maybe some drivers become less enthused and less caring as they drive longer. It may be due to them feeling like they are not as appreciated as they should be. I don’t have the answer, but Steve's article sure made me think.
WILL CARTER, Supervisor
Pupil Transportation Field Services
Mississippi Department of Education
My answer to Steve's question is that special-needs drivers are born with it, trained for it or figured it out themselves. The driver Steve referred to didn't seem happy with her job, and that doesn’t make happy kids. Children follow by example.
I know it takes a very special person to transport special-needs students. I train special-needs drivers and also regular-route drivers and have yet to come across a special-needs driver who does not seem truly interested in the students. Now, regular drivers — there are plenty who take this as a job and only as a job. I would like to see all drivers take an interest in their students.
Arkansas Public School Academic
Facilities and Transportation
Our district here in central Phoenix has a contractor that handles the mainstream students, and we do the special-needs students and some field trips. I have always enjoyed the kids. It is easy to look them in the eye and ask them how they are. I always encourage the newbies to speak to the wheelchair students while they are hooking up. I marvel at how some of these drivers can get these kids to smile and laugh — even the kids who hate riding the bus. So, compassion is easy, all it usually takes is encouraging the drivers and aides to treat the students like the human beings they are.
SHELLY HEGEMAN, Driver-Trainer
Phoenix Union High School District