There is no truer phrase than nobody is perfect. It’s also the title of one of my daughter’s favorite books, which is about a little girl who grows so fixated on unobtainable perfection that she develops anxiety.
Failure is a part of life and should be celebrated as a learning tool. And on March 29, Jackie Miller failed hard. She did what every school bus driver is not supposed to do despite badly wanting to. Driving for Amherst Exempted Village Schools near Cleveland, Ohio, a video went viral of her going ballistic on four specific junior high students who have made her life—at least on Route A—a living hell for the past two school years.
You’ve likely seen the clip along with millions of others via Facebook, Tik Tok and news broadcasts from coast to coast and beyond. Miller abruptly resigned later that evening before Superintendent Michael Molnar could even place her on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
While she immediately regretted the obscenities and threats, she said she would do it all over again because she was no longer tolerating the bullying and disruptions. She made numerous reports through her supervisor to the Amherst Junior High principal, but nothing was ever done. It’s a story this magazine’s readers know all too well.
Some parents voiced outrage at Miller’s behavior. It is clearly unacceptable for any school employee (or adult, period) to speak to children in the way Miller did, no matter how frustrated. She admits as much. But any parent knows full well the feeling of wanting to pull your hair out (or worse) due to backtalk or plain bad behavior from their kids. This is why so many people have rallied to Miller’s defense, at this writing to the tune of over $120,000 via a GoFundMe campaign.
Her peril is shining necessary light on what some school bus drivers nationwide go through day in, day out. While we can’t condone obscenities and threats, sometimes students need a tongue-lashing, especially when the principal apparently doesn’t have the school bus driver’s back. Still, it’s a bittersweet reality for Miller. Despite her new-found windfall for a much-deserved vacation and to supplement her retirement, she told me she never wanted notoriety. She only wanted the four problem students to stop being disruptive and to stop provoking her at every turn. She said she loves most of the students she transported the last three years and those before that for six years as a school bus driver in Texas. And she misses them. But, like newscaster Howard Beale in the 1976 film “Network,” she was as mad as hell, and she wasn’t going to take this anymore.
Miller isn’t the first school bus driver to be caught on video in an unprofessional light, and she won’t be the last. But the incident is especially polarizing because she apparently never had any issues before and always tried to do things by the book. On March 29, she felt compelled to write her own chapter. And it reveals the sad truth that school bus drivers are often abused by students and under-appreciated or marginalized by their school community.
There are reasons why TV shows and movies reduce school bus drivers, cafeteria staff and other non-teachers to caricatures. For decades, those depictions were crafted sometimes as a direct reflection of certain individuals. But how often did they arise from prejudice, perhaps for a perceived lack of education when compared to classroom staff? Certainly, school transportation staff have not had equal footing in terms of pay.
But as we know, most school bus drivers and other staff are much more than what is perceived at a glance. Originally a long-haul trucker, Miller is a mother and grandmother who wanted to stay closer to home and had a calling to drive students to and from school rather than goods to market. After driving students in Texas, she and her husband moved to the Cleveland area and drove adults with developmental disabilities, that is until the agency shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. She then joined Amherst.
Miller is also a breast cancer survivor in remission for 17 years, and she endured the pain of watching her only daughter die from colon cancer. She is no pushover, as was made abundantly clear on March 29, and she became the voice for #Teambusdriver that has been trending on social media ever since.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the May 2023 issue of School Transportation News.
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