Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, June 22, 2012

School Buses - The Rolling Zoos


My mother was a bus driver for 25 years.  School buses, charter buses, special ed vans.  She witnessed all sorts of human behavior.  I’m writing a novel about her adventures as a reporter, a bus driver and a mother.

The first time Mom got behind the wheel of her bus – Bus No. 25 – she looked in the rearview mirror and her jaw dropped. 

“What have I gotten myself into?” she thought.

Behind her was 35 feet of empty bus seats.  She wondered how she was ever going to manage this ginormous vehicle.  She’d learned to drive the steamroller and the paver, though, so figured she’d drive this monstrous bus, too.  She had to; we needed the money and this was the only job that coincided with our school hours.

She was so proud when she passed the driver’s test (the written test was a snap).  When her first week of school runs was over, she came home with sagging soldiers.  Mom was strong, but not stout and muscular.  This was 1970 - the school buses didn’t have power steering.  That’s not what was bothering Mom, though.  She’d moved countless boulders in our backyard to create her wildflower garden.  She could handle a bus loaded with kids.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” she sighed.

“Is the bus too heavy for you to drive, Mom?” I asked.

“Oh, no.  It’s these kids.  They’re horrible.  They’re monsters.  They fight.  They throw things.  They curse.  They insult me.  They insult each other.  The bigger ones pick on the littler ones.  I don’t know how teachers do it.  I’m going to hand in my resignation.  I just can’t put up with this.   My nerves won’t take it.”

“But, Mom,” I noted.  “It’s not your fault.  Teachers have only have 25 kids; you have 54, on the elementary school runs.  The teachers are facing the kids most of the day; you have your back to them.  And you’re driving the bus.”

“That’s right.  Fifty kids and one adult with her back to them who’s trying to pay attention to the road.   Only a lunatic would take a job like this.”

“I tried to tell you that, Mom, that’s why I don’t like riding the bus; it’s a rolling zoo – or a rolling lunatic asylum.  There’s no one to keep order.  Look, these other women have done it and they don’t have your education.”

“If I’m so smart, then why am I driving a school bus?”

“Don’t give up on it, yet, Mom.  You’ll get a handle on them.  This one bus driver?  The kids were giving her a hard time, and she just stopped the bus right in the middle of the road, went back and gave them a verbal what-for.  She told them if it happened again, she’d take them back to the school.”

“Did it happen again?”

“Yeah, they started fighting again in the back of the bus.  She stopped, but they opened up the emergency exit and jumped out.”

“What did the driver do then?”

“Nothing.  She continued on her run.  So that’s what you’ll do if the kids give you any trouble – you’ll take them back to the school.”

And she did, too, on many occasions.  Returning to the school was a very effective damper on hyperactive kids who wanted to go home.  I went with her on some of those runs later on and there were some very long, very quiet faces as we pulled up to the school door.  The principal would give them a lecture and send the bus on its way.  You didn’t hear a word the second time.

Bus drivers, like teachers, get into a routine after a few years of learning what stage of development certain age groups are at.  They learn what works and what doesn’t.  Scolding works with the little ones.  High school kids are pretty much housebroken by the time they get to the school bus.  It’s the middle school/junior high school kids that bus drivers, teachers, and parents all agree are aliens from another planet.



Unfortunately, it’s a story as old as school buses themselves.  Take 50 7th and 8th graders, enclose them in a moving school bus with only one adult who has their back to them and their mind the road, and you have a recipe for insanity.



Young adolescents are from hell – or some alien planet.  You say good night to your sweet, well-mannered 12 year old on the eve of their 13th birthday, and when you wake up, you find yourself facing a sullen, rude, snarling alien from another planet.



Glenn Beck was rightly upset over the horrid treatment of a school bus monitor on a bus filled with 13 and 14 year-olds.  They mocked her and insulted her in true, adolescent, alien fashion.  Glenn blamed our degenerated culture, and that’s true to some extent.  The sorry fact is, though, that it’s the age.  Your typical 13-year old is simply a 2 or 3-year old in a bigger body, just as self-centered, thoughtless, cruel, and irresponsible.



Happily, bus drivers have found an answer to their behavior:  returning them to the school.  That usually does the trick.  Adolescent aliens are clever though, and go home and weep to their feckless parents.  Ask any parent what it’s like to deal with a 13 year old.  What the schools used to do is handed graded punishments.  The first was a warning.  The second was in-school detention.  The third was revocation of bus privileges.  In other words, the monsters either had to walk to school on their tentacles or their parents had to drive them.



Driving them was an inconvenience to the parents, and so they turned to litigation.  State law required that the students be provided transportation beyond a certain distance of the school and to deny that privilege constituted a safety hazard.



So then the schools and bus companies tried school bus monitors like Karen Klein.  Ms. Klein would be a fine monitor on a grade school bus, and probably even a high school bus.  But it takes a certain kind of monitor – or for that matter, a teacher – to handle 13 year-olds and their barbaric social kind.  I had a friend who was training to be a teacher.  For some reason, the authorities didn’t like her and assigned her to a 7th grade classroom.  She lasted a week.  She said she knew it wasn’t her; that’s what they did to prospective teachers they wanted to discourage.



The typical middle school teacher has to have a tough hide, but a good appearance.  They also have to be able to “negotiate” with the kids.  If they want to survive the 7th grade classroom they have to have the ability to turn a blind eye to their students’ calumny and a deaf ear to the torment they wreak on hapless classmates.  They have to be buddies with the boss of the classroom, which isn’t them.



My younger brother has taken Mom’s place on the bus runs.  He complains about getting the worst runs – that is, the middle schoolers.  He’s got those runs because he’s big (though not swarthy) – 6 foot 4 inches.  At one time, he was a bouncer.  He can handle them where the other drivers can’t, although they test him, too.  But even he gets tired of them.  He has nothing to fear from them; it’s just that their behavior disgusts him.



Historically, it was probably a mistake to begin busing children to school.  Busing them turned them into cosseted monsters, spoiled, selfish, and ruthlessly cruel.  You may ask where are the parents?  Well, they’re cowering.  Where are the school officials?  They’re cowering, too, on advice of counsel.  Where’s the bus driver?  Trying to drive the bus and get these creatures off her bus as soon as possible.  Where’s the bus monitor?  Isn’t it their job to control this rolling zoo?  They will, if they can.  You can’t expect a grandmother to take on 50 foul-mouthed adolescents.



It takes a big man, and I do mean man.  Or the Men in Black.

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