“Work hard — or get your work done — so you can go have fun,” advised Mark English, the shop foreman for Mid-Prairie Community School District in eastern Iowa.
English, who was nominated as a 2021 Garage Star, grew up on a farm and his grandparents and parents told him to always get his work done, which he shared can be a catch-22 since there are always things to do.
“I helped out, and every time I was home from school I was outside,” English said, which he shared is a different reality for many children in today’s world. “[My family] taught me, you get what you work for, don’t expect anything to be handed to you. Almost everything I’ve ever had to do, I worked for. So, hard work and dedication normally get you ahead.”
He also advised the new generation coming into school transportation to not be afraid to ask for help. He said sometimes he’s exhausted all options when trying to solve a mechanical problem, but really all he needs is a fresh pair of eyes to diagnose it.
One growing challenge that he has noticed recently is that many high school or college graduates don’t want to do as much hands-on work and would prefer working with computers or sitting in an office. This, he said, has contributed to a technician and mechanic shortage. He said fewer kids are going to trade school or are even taught about the benefits of a trade school to begin with.
English said a lot of the times companies will pay for potential applicants to attend trade school while offering an internship program. This then guarantees the applicants a job at the completion of schooling and can significantly cut back on student debt.
English Throughout His Career
When English was growing up, he recalled that his school bus drivers were often also turkey or hog farmers who would break up their day by driving between completing their farm chores.
After graduating high school in 1996, English interned for a farmer’s supply company while attending Northeast Iowa Community College. It offers a John Deere certification and partners with dealers to offer students both hands-on and classroom training. He said this gave students an opportunity to figure out if the job was right for them.
He graduated in May 1998 and started working at the farm equipment dealership full-time for the next 20 years. He explained that about four years ago, the family that owned the dealership was getting ready to retire and he didn’t want to work for a big company. He began looking for work in a different sector. That’s when he remembered school bus driving.
Being a farmer himself, he was also looking for more job flexibility. He interviewed for a bus driver position at Mid-Prairie Community School District and found out the district was also looking for a mechanic. Even though he didn’t know anything about school buses at the time, he welcomed the challenge.
“I have kids that are getting older, so I have more activities and I want to be at more stuff [with them],” English said, adding that working for the school district allows him to be on the same schedule as his kids.
Now English drives a route and helps with light school bus mechanical issues. Mid-Prairie doesn’t do too many repairs in-house, as it outsources complicated engine and other large repairs.
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While he noted that changing careers is one of his biggest challenges, it’s also turned into one of his proudest accomplishments. “Having courage now to try something different … was kind of scary,” English admitted, adding that it’s been rewarding learning new skills and working with great people.
His favorite part of the job is interacting with the students he transports and their parents, who are always bringing him baked goods and notes. “Taking kids safely to school is a pretty big responsibility,” English said, adding that the parents trust him to do so.
He said transporting students is different than farming, as he normally doesn’t see the product be delivered. But with school bus drivers, he knows when the kids are home safe and sound.