In 2011 when I retired from education for good, I had a valid CDL license and my bus driver training credentials were all current. I made a note to myself to let my bus driver training certification expire. I did just that and finally I was no longer eligible to drive a school bus for the first time in 40 years. Having spent 29 years in the coaching business I was required to be certified to drive a bus and I kept that updated when I became an administrator.
In the spring of 2013 my wife kept telling me that Richard Mussey, the transportation director at Comanche ISD, continued to ask her every time he saw her if I would be interested in substituting as a bus driver. She had told him that I had allowed all my paperwork to expire. He assured her that he would provide all the support I needed for renewal. Finally I agreed and went through the re-certification process.
For me becoming an eligible school bus driver made me, once again, think of all the responsibilities, the problems that can accompany this duty, and also all the opportunities. In regard to responsibilities the number one issue is that there is always precious cargo on board and their safety and well-being has to be job one.
In thinking about problems, most people will naturally think about problem students. And that can be an issue but for me the worst problems are those with the maintenance and operation of the bus itself. If all the systems are working correctly then attention to the road and traffic become the top priorities.
A bus that has system problems can cause the driver to concentrate more on the vehicle than the cargo. Unfortunately most buses have system concerns simply because they travel several miles per week, many times with different operators, and they sometimes travel roadways that are rough and not designed for a vehicle the size of a bus. Keeping a fleet of buses in the best possible condition for the safety of the students is both time consuming and costly.
As for the opportunities, well, this is my favorite. To begin with the bus driver for those daily riders, is usually the first person they will see to begin their school day and the last one they see to end that same school day. The driver has an enormous opportunity to make the day special for those students. A friendly smile, an inviting greeting, and a couple of inquiries to let the student know that they are genuinely interested in their school experience can all be crucial in helping the student to have the best day possible at school.
At the end of the ride, saying good-bye and meaning it as well as encouraging the student to have a good evening at home can be just as important as the greeting of the day. Some students step off the bus into some troubling situations and they desperately need that encouragement. Even the students who have an ideal home life can benefit from that encouragement as well.
Since I have returned to the bus driving duty, I have only had a couple of incidents that made me wish that I had not come back. The kids have been great! Yes I do have those hyperactive little guys, those moody junior high kids, and those high schoolers who believe that they are probably the smartest humans on the planet. But that does not mean that I do not enjoy them all. They make me feel young, they show me respect, and they too give me the encouragement that I need to have a good day or evening as well. It is a very rewarding job.
I enjoy the field trips as much as the route driving. It allows me to take a group of very excited students to a destination that is often new to them. The elementary students are naturally the most excitable and often their teachers have their hands full trying to contain that excitement and make sure they behave properly. I have yet to see any teacher fail at doing just that.
The high school kids for the most part try to act like the trip is routine but deep down they are as excited as any elementary student. For the past couple of years I have driven the Comanche High School band to the out of town football games on Friday night. If there is ever any doubt that kids these days have lost their ability to be respectful and polite, it is put to rest every time that I transport them. I see responsibility and accountability carried out at a very high level. Behavior problems are completely absent from these trips. The best part is the arrival back at the high school, because no matter if it is a short trip, a mid-range trip, or one that concludes in the early morning hours, those kids always thank me for driving them. They do that knowing that I am getting paid! They are incredible.
I cannot conclude this post without talking about how much I love the bus barn crew of drivers. It feels as much like family as any school group in which I have ever been a part. We can discuss things like politics and religion and never have an angry word uttered. We joke together, we eat together, and we always greet one another. And when someone is absent we truly miss them being there. It is a very special group.
So how important is driving a bus: I have been a classroom teacher, a coach, an administrator, and a consultant and I have yet to find any other job with any more importance than being a bus driver. It will for sure be the exclamation point at the end of a very enjoyable career in education for me.The drivers for Comanche ISD in which I am a part include: Pat Westmoreland, Neal Lovin, Sandy Mast, Santos Gomez, Dennis Marken, Rick Reynolds, Jacob Stephenson, Doris Steele, Beatriz Cortez, Homer Carriger, and Melanie Holmsley. I have three grandsons that are either elementary or pre-school age and I would trust this group to drive them anywhere at any time.