Two college students in Arkansas shared the benefits of being a school bus driver and why their peers should consider such a job.
Ian Hernandez, 19, a sophomore at Arkansas Tech University, said he has always been fascinated with school buses. He remembers attending sporting events in high school where coaches would threaten to kick him off the team if he didn’t get out of the driver’s seat while traveling to and from games. Now, he sits in the driver’s seat twice a day and gets paid for it.
Last fall, Hernandez met with a couple of his former coaches and mentioned that he wanted to get his commercials driver’s license (CDL). However, they told him they thought he had to be 21 years old. He let his dream go, until he read an article on Mike Ankton, also an education major, who obtained his CDL at age 19.
Hernandez noted that he just finished his coaching endorsement program and knew that he would eventually get his CDL. “With all these new federal laws coming into effect for commercial drivers, it would make it a lot harder to get a CDL after February,” Hernandez said, who is now a school bus driver for El Dorado School District.
Meanwhile, Ankton, now a 20-year-old Junior at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, said he’s always been an ambitious student. It was while studying to become a history education major that he began looking for a way to stand out. He said a lot of teachers also have coaching endorsements, but Ankton said that he wasn’t interested in that. Instead, interest grew in obtaining a CDL.
Ankton, now a school bus driver for Arkadelphia Public Schools, said the process was easy. He went to his nearby school district and asked about the requirements. Next thing he knew, he was taking the written test, then the behind-the-wheel test, which the district reimbursed him for. He added that he thinks this will help him when he graduates college, as he will have a leg up on other education majors, as he can help as a substitute bus driver when needed.
Ankton has been driving a route since October 2020 and started just days after he turned 19. Meanwhile, Hernandez started driving at the start of this school year in August.
Hernandez added that his school bus driver trainer happened to be his school bus driver for nearly 13 years, kindergarten through high school. Ankton also added that his trainer was his high school bus driver.
Advertising to College Students
Ankton noted that many people don’t find driving a school bus to be a rewarding job because of student misbehavior. He pointed out that bus drivers don’t always have a lot of say when it comes to disciplining students, and many other district employees see the drivers as simply the people who get the students from point A to point B.
“I think a lot of people think it’s not worth transporting kids that are disrespectful. So, I think the pay needs to equal the job,” he said, adding that applicants go out of their way to endure months of training and studying for the license.
He also advised, especially in Arkansas, that retirement benefits should be better advertised to potential applicants. He noted that by starting to drive at 19, he will have already earned three years of retirement benefits before he graduates college. He added that some schools will also reimburse applicants for the training process, which is another benefit that is not widely discussed.
“Focus on targeting students that have a reason to have a CDL or want to be in education, because you don’t have to just target students that are going into teaching. [With a CDL] I can drive a dump truck, trash truck, whatever kind of truck I want to drive, except for a tractor trailer. And you have three endorsements, passenger, school bus and air brakes,” he said, adding that another advertising sector could be students who don’t want to go to college right now, but might be interested in construction down the line.
Hernandez noted that districts should specifically advertise to education majors that can obtain classroom management experience while on a school bus. He noted that for better or worse, some students act differently in the classroom than when they step on the school bus. That can also be a selling point to those looking to go into education, Hernandez explained.
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“You can actually get experience on both sides, dealing with the kids in the classroom is different from the bus,” Hernandez explained, adding that in Arkansas the college towns are facing the worst driver shortages. “And so, when these college students get the experience of knowing what to do in these situations on the bus with these types of behavior, it probably won’t be so [challenging] to figure out what to do in the classroom when a behavioral situation happens.”
Ankton agreed, adding that district administrators could even partner with colleges of education. In his situation, he received education credits toward his degree because of his management on the school bus. He added that because he was transporting grades kindergarten through 12th daily, he didn’t have to observe them in the classroom.
He added that for him bus driving is a rewarding job, as it’s more than driving kids to and from school. Instead, he said he’s building connections with his students and learning how to handle behavior situations. “You’re learning how to help them,” Ankton said. “And at the same time, these kids look up to you.”
Hernandez explained the students are more likely to discuss some of their hardships, either at home or at school, with him because he is closer to their ages. “They had a bad day at home, they come on the bus, and they see us. We may or may not have been in that situation [recently],” he explained.
Navigating Student Behavior
Being young adults themselves, Hernandez and Ankton noted that have had some respect and disciplinary challenges with their student riders.
Hernandez said his first route was driving junior high schoolers, which was easy as the students mainly stayed to themselves. However, he noted that he got moved to a high school route and many students caught attitudes with him at first. He said he had to tell them, that “I may be just your bus driver, but I am the bus driver who can put you three to 10 days off the bus. I get it, we’re about same age. But I need to get you to where you need to go safely,” he explained, adding that he is not lenient, so if they don’t listen, they’re off the bus. “My number one rule is don’t move when the bus is moving at all for any reason. Whether you’re in kindergarten to 12th grade, I’m going to react to you the same way. Because at the end of the day, if something happens, you can get hurt. I could be distracted trying to figure out why you’re moving and could cause a reason for other students to get hurt.”
Meanwhile, Ankton noted that he too is strict. “I don’t tolerate disrespect,” he said adding that he’s also very hard on rules such as no eating and rolling down windows. “I do write up students after multiple warnings, and I don’t try to be their friends all the time.”
Ankton noted that his first route as a driver was with 12 students and was a country rural route, so kids kept to themselves for the most part. However, now he’s driving 60 kids into the city in grades kindergarten through second grade, and sixth to eighth grades. “I will be honest when I first started it was pretty rough,” he said. “It took me a few months to kind of get them calmed down to what my expectations were.”
He explained that eating was a problem as well as disrespect. However, he continued to write the kids up and explain to them that they must follow the rules. Now he said, he barely has any disciplinary problems.
Ankton noted that he understands that hiring young adults could be a risk, and some school districts or states have certain age minimums to eliminate that risk of young drivers. He noted that being close in age to the students being transported, emotions and respect could also play a role. However, Ankton said that all of that can be vetted in the interview process. He advised districts to hire young adults, like himself and Hernandez who take the job and responsibility seriously.
“Are they someone that you can trust to do this kind of job? Or are they in it for the wrong reason?” he asked, adding that schools and states should consider changing their minimum driving age requirements.
Both Ankton and Hernandez noted that after graduating they wouldn’t mind continuing with a route as needed, or for athletic or field trip purposes, adding that they plan on continuously renewing their CDL.
“At first when I started this, it was just a way to get my foot in the door,” Ankton admitted, noting that waking up before 6 a.m. as a college student isn’t always ideal. “I didn’t think I would like it as much as I do. It’s hard to balance sometimes but I truly enjoy it and seeing the impact that I’ve made is monumental to me.”
He said parents tell him how he’s made an impact on their children. Ankton said he is also presented with gifts and cards. He added that many kids have confessed he is their role model. He explained that while the pay isn’t the greatest, it’s the kids that keep people in the business of student transportation.
“Being the first person and the last person these kids see every day, and knowing that you’re pretty much the one who sets the tone for the day is rewarding,” Hernandez added, noting that it surprised him how caring even high schoolers are to him. “They could have had a horrible day at their house the previous night, but they get on the bus, they see the bus driver smile, and maybe they’re happy for the rest of the day. We have that impact on these kids. That is why I do it, to know that just a simple ‘good morning’ brightens a kid’s day.”
Advice to Potential Applicants
Don’t overthink it,” Hernandez said of anyone interested in getting their CDL. “Don’t be scared. … And when you go to get your CDL, don’t get it just to get it. Get it because you’re going to do something with it.”
Ankton added that liking kids should be a prerequisite for driving a bus. He added there’s also no shame in quitting if it’s not for them.
“But do get into it for the right reasons,” he said, adding that applicants also shouldn’t use the district for free training either. “But do please consider it. It will get your name out there; community members would love to see you. You will without a doubt be the most famous bus driver in the town, and you will probably be the most requested bus driver. You really do make that impact not just on the kids but other bus drivers because they take note of young people coming in and doing something like this — the teachers and other adults — you’re not just making an impact on students, you make an impact on everyone at the district.”