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What Is It Like To Be a School Bus Driver?

What is it like to be a school bus driver? This is one of the questions a lot of us school bus drivers get asked, Other than, “how do you do it”? (wink) And, “Is it hard”? It’s not an easy job, that’s for sure.

First of all let me tell you a little bit about the difference between driving a car and driving a school bus. The average automobile is only about 5 feet wide and weighs between 2,000 and 3,000 Pounds. The average school bus is 8 feet wide (Not counting the mirrors), 40 feet long and weighs at least 20,000 pounds. When you are driving a car, your front wheels are about 3 feet in front of you, and your rear wheels are 4 feet behind you. In a school bus the rear wheels are 30 feet behind you. You have to be someone special to do what we do. And I’m proud to say that.

It’s not something just anyone can do. It’s not all about driving the 40-foot long, 12-ton vehicle and opening and shutting the door. You have to love children and understand that children are learning and make mistakes. you have to be very consistent, be a good listener, show compassion, know how to tie shoes, reward good behavior, teach them how to turn their bad behavior into good behavior and be someone that they look up to. You need to have good rapport with the students and the parents to make a bus run smoothly.

In all the years I have driven a school bus I have been: Hugged; kissed; high-fived; hit; kicked; cussed at; flipped the bird; fist in my face; back-talked to; puked on; coughed on; sneezed on; spit on; licked; and hit by pack packs, instruments and gym bags. I have been told I’m pretty, told they wish they were my son/daughter, told me I was having a bad hair day. I’ve been asked how much I weighed, my age, am I married and is it fun to drive a bus. Out of the mouths of babes! These are things that I will never forget. Good and bad, it has been a great experience.

My day begins just like any other typical day….I’m up at 5:00am, I get in the shower, out of the shower, dry my hair, put my make up on, get dressed, get a cup of coffee and I’m out the door. I start my bus to pre-trip it. We must check all the lights, the tires, the doors, the fluid levels, the brakes, etc. I leave at exactly the same time every day. I try to be very consistent for the students. Each day is different, there are no days the same. You never know what your trip will entail or what kind of obstacle you will face. Sometimes Mother Nature isn’t very nice to us. We drive in fog, sleet, snow, ice, extreme cold and hot conditions. Sometimes our bus breaks down and we have to pull over and wait on the mechanics to bring us a sub bus. There goes your consistency for that route. Sometimes you have a student vomit and you have to pull over to clean it up before the other students start to follow.

tami-hatkeSchool bus driver Tami Hatke answers a frequently asked question.I get to my first stop, load them, wait for them to get seated, shut the door and proceed to the next stop and continue this process until I have completed each stop. But not all stops go as smooth. Some students aren’t ready so you have to wait on them. And I am still trying to keep my consistency for the other students. Each student that is late makes my consistency not so consistent. Some take what seems forever to get seated, some get on with their breakfast because they didn’t have time to eat it. It’s so hard to tell them “no eating on the bus” when you know they need their breakfast to start the day off good.

I say “Good Morning” to all of my students…Some say good morning back, some give you a smile, while others don’t even look at you let alone say anything. Some stops I will have a distracted motorist run my stop arm. Then it’s up to me to get the description of the vehicle, description of the driver and the plate number, all while making sure the student doesn’t get hit and remains safe. To get a school bus drivers blood to boil is to run their stop arm. I know it’s really hard to see a huge big yellow bus with red flashing lights huh? (Wink) We are doing our best to keep these children safe and get them back to their parents safe. The parent’s put their trust in us! Our main enemy is the actual motorist, not the student. We have motorist’s honk at us for taking too long to load or unload.

We have motorists pull out in front of us so they won’t get behind us. We have been flipped the bird and I see their mouth moving but can’t hear them so I’m sure it’s not some very nice words coming out of their mouths. And we have to keep calm and not do the same back. The motorist that calls our boss on us for something so minute is the same motorist that pulls out in front of us, runs our stop arm and puts our precious cargo in danger. It’s extremely aggravating and scary to see a motorist run the stop arm and see that they are either talking on their phone or texting. But one thing I’m sure of…if it was their child getting on or off the bus they would be more alert and conscious of their surroundings.

We never know when we will run across an accident that has blocked the road, a stopped train blocking the tracks or some other obstacle that causes us have to make a quick decision on the best way to detour around that obstacle and still stay on time. Parents worry if their children aren’t home on time.

We rarely have subs to drive our routes, so if we wake up not feeling well, most of the time we drive anyway. We don’t get paid a lot for the responsibility that we have. You have to have a love for children to be a good all-around bus driver. Yes, it’s not easy to be the one and only adult supervising and driving safely up to 84 students. But we see more than what you realize. That leads up to another question we are often asked: “do bus drivers really have eyes in the back of their head”? That is a question that will never be answered…we can’t give away our secret.
Once the students have been unloaded safely at school and back home again, we take a deep breath As another route has been completed safe and sound!!! Time to check the bus and make sure no students are asleep or hiding.

The bus is parked to sleep for the night, and the driver too! And less than 13 hours later We will start the process all over again, not knowing what obstacle may lie in our way of getting our precious cargo to their destination safe and sound!

And that my friend…is what it’s like to be a school bus driver!

Tami Hatke is a school bus driver for Tippecanoe School Corporation in Lafayette, Indiana, located about 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

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