It is often said that we bus jockeys can be a positive influence on our precious cargo. Besides setting a good example by keeping our cool and not cussin’ ’em out when they drive us to drooling distraction, we have opportunities to teach kids valuable life lessons.
I have devoted much of the past four years to convincing my passengers that the choices they make have consequences. For example, at the beginning of each school year I tell them they can sit with their friends and behave or they can misbehave and sit where I put ’em.
It’s amazing how they insist they want the first option but keep choosing the second.
(This blog is based on actual events, though names, places and some personal details have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty and avoid libel suits.)
It’s no secret that everyone, no matter their age or grade, wants to sit in the back of the bus.
SEE: WHERE THE ACTION IS
It’s either something in the air back there or the distance from the driver’s jaundiced eye, but a seat in the rear naturally inspires mischief, rowdiness, noise, projectiles, cursing, conflict, littering and other crimes against the soul. So I told my very first busload of intermediate schoolers that I would keep tabs on who behaves for the first week. Those who don’t will be assigned perches closer to their favorite bus driver.
“Hey, why do I have to move?” was the customary complaint from those I later condemned to the middle or front of the bus.
“You have to earn your seat back there,” I kept explaining. “You can’t be loud and bother other kids. You can’t keep running around in the aisles and distracting me. It’s dangerous. I don’t have many rules, but the ones I have you need to follow if you want to sit where you want to sit.”
If I had a dime for every time I have delivered that speech only to have the kids get kooky as soon as I stopped speaking, I could retire in a kind of luxury that makes Buckingham Palace look like a tarpaper shack. Alas, kids, like many adults, can’t seem to grasp the notion of earning things these days. They want everything handed to them and believe they should keep them no matter what they do.
Robespierre, a fourth grader who became a living legend for his relentless rowdiness, was frequently remanded to the Honored Student Seat in the very front and he bitterly resented my praise of good kids. When I told Louie and Louise (an exceptionally quiet and polite brother and sister) that I wished I had a busload just like them, Robespierre yelled, “Why do they get to sit in the back?”
“Because they earned it,” I explained. “Louie and Louise never give me any trouble, unlike someone we both know.”
“Oh, yeah? Who’s that?”
That group of kids was eventually replaced by time and new routes. Sad to say, most of them departed without displaying any evidence that they had learned their lesson. And even though Einstein defined insanity as repeatedly doing the same things and expecting a different result, I continue trying to drive home the notion that privileges come with a price (such as self control and responsibility).
This year, I gave my new batch of middle schoolers the same classic options: Choose your seat now but know you won’t keep it if you cause trouble.
Seven months and at least as many assigned seating charts later, most of these rapscallions still haven’t made the connection between their crazed actions and where their carcasses are later planted.
They also don’t seem to make the connection between their uproars and me suddenly pulling the bus over in a safe spot on the side of the road. For a while there I tried to use these pauses in our trip as teaching moments.
Now I simply stop driving and sit quietly. (A colleague told me she keeps a book handy for such occasions and puts her feet up on the dashboard and starts to read.)
Of course, after I inform them that I am refusing to move until they settle down, and some long minutes pass, someone inevitably cries, “You can’t do this! You’re holding us hostage!”
“I’m not holding you hostage,” I reply. “You are. You can settle down and go home or you can keep acting like knuckleheads and we’ll sit here all day. I don’t care. I get paid by the hour. Ka-CHING! It’s your choice.”
Alas, after our most recent pull-over, they chose three more sets of write-ups, a detailed two-page (single spaced!) letter to the principal from yours truly requesting that this matter be turned over to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, and yet another set of assigned seats that left them gobsmacked and (relatively) quiet for at least a couple of days.
“Hey, why did you change our seats?” I was asked by Beulah Belle, a seventh-grader who’d given me writer’s cramp with the number of times I’d indicted her for rowdiness.
“Where do I begin?” I replied after staring at her in slack-jawed astonishment. “You really have to ask?”
“I feel sorry for you, man,” Axel a raucous seventh-grader said to Spud, his former partner in crime who found himself transplanted to the seat directly behind me and, for good measure, pinned near the window by an exceedingly quiet kid he does not know.
Hey, it was Spud’s choice. Maybe someday that will sink in, but I fear the sun will burn out first.