As my blog gets more notice amongst my coworkers, friends and the school bus community, there is one question that gets asked the most: "Why did you become a bus driver?" Here is that story.
A little over 10 years ago, I was going through a divorce. I was new to this city and needed a job. I was now a single mom of two young children, 4 and 8. I needed a job where I didn’t need a lot of childcare and the flexibility, where I could be active in my childrens' school lives.
I started out by driving around town and putting in applications everywhere and anywhere. In fact, I was puling out of the Pepsi distribution center here in our area when I looked across the street and saw a sign that read "Drivers Needed" on the front gate of the school bus lot. I sat there for a minute and thought about it.
I had worked with children when I was a nanny for three years and ran a daycare center for a year. Also I come from a long line of truck drivers. Both my grandfathers where truck drivers, and so are a few of my uncles. So for me it was like, "I can do this!" So, I drove over and went it.
They asked me a few questions and then sent me over the main office to fill out an application (back then they didn’t have online applications). I then waited and, about a week later, they called for an interview. When I went to the interview I didn’t realize that the whole office staff was going to be there. The supervise of transportation, the head driver trainer and special needs coordinator, the office secretary, payroll/dispatcher and, finally, the fleet/shop supervisor were all in this tiny room interviewing me.
What I remember most about that meeting was that the two ladies did most of the asking of questions, and the fleet supervisor doodled on the paper in front of him...LOL! After the interview process was over, I then had to go take the drug testing and start six to eight weeks of bus driver bootcamp!
Ok, it is really just training but it took forever! Because I wasn’t just learning how to drive different types of buses on the streets and how to not hit anything, I also had to watch and read as much information about safety, WAC codes, laws on state and federal levels, district policies and union contract. Mind you, none of this is paid! So in six to eight weeks I got my master's degree in school bus driver, better known as a CDL.
I then had to prove everything to my driver trainer, who I would like to add was the state school bus rodeo champion in our state for 6 years! (More on what a school bus rodeo will be covered in another blog ... And no, there are no clowns, and we don’t ride on top for 8 seconds.)
After proving that I could drive and student manage, I was what the office calls, "let loose" to start subbing on routes for drivers. On my very first solo route was a special needs bus. I remember it like yesterday because it was the one and only time I have ever backed into and hit anything in the 10 years that I have driven. I had dropped off a student at their house and backed out of the driveway right into a mailbox.
I was so scared and flustered when I got back to transportation. I called the owner of the mailbox and her response was "Don’t worry about it. In fact, I should thank you for squishing it. I have this fish mailbox that I have been wanting to put up and my husband wouldn’t let me. And now I can.”
When I shared this with my boss, we both just laughed, because you don’t always get that great of a response from the people in the community.
I have to say that this has been a great job over the years. It has allowed me to volunteer for my children's field trips and events. I was able to go back to college and get my associates degree. I have been able to work as much or as little as I needed for income. I had the opportunity to take trips for the schools sports teams and other classes to places I would not have had the money or time to go see. I have met some of the most wonderful people and students over this time as a school bus driver.
Now I am blogging for a national published magazine School Transportation News, which will start showing up on their website in January 2012.
Christe Smith is school bus driver for the Olympia School District in Olympia, Wash. She has been enjoying driving bus for the last 10 years and has experienced many events that she has decided to share with the rest STN readers. You may also view her blog at Life as a school bus driver.