We school bus jockeys are encouraged to “write kids up” for transgressions ranging from basic safety violations — like distracting us or standing while the bus is moving — to more serious infractions like fighting, pushing, tripping, eating, drinking, littering, unacceptable language, destroying or defacing property, smoking, rudeness, excessive mischief, menacing, domestic terrorism, high treason, and violations of the emoluments clause.
(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.)
Each written report (see form above) results in a talking-to by a scowling school official and the notifying of parental units. Sometimes the mere threat of my filing a formal complaint is enough to snuff misbehavior. Principal Diesel and equally no-nonsense Assistant Principal O’Carnage at Helga Poppin Intermediate are feared by all but the most hardened hellions, and the accused often beg me to not turn them over to face their wrath.
Principal Bullhorne at Bubblefish Middle School also runs a tight ship. The convicted are routinely frog-marched out to the bus by the scruff o’ the neck to stand sheepishly by while I am told of the verdict and sentence (usually in-school suspension — aka study hall — or an assigned seat for a month, which can be quite humiliating for a cock-of-the-walk eighth-grader who finds himself in the front seat near the despised sixth-graders).
Sometimes I speak to parents first — always emphasizing that I am not picking on their offspring, I’m only concerned about their safety — but even mom or dad’s stern warnings to behave are naturally forgotten quickly by the dear child in question. After Rollo the dreaded fourth-grader was written up twice in two days for tormenting other passengers by calling them unseemly names and seizing their possessions, he resumed his antics immediately upon returning from the Poppin woodshed.
As the dreaded Principal Diesel passed my bus one noisy, troubled morning, I mentioned that I was still going through the paces with Rollo. Diesel suggested I move Rollo’s seat yet again and wished me luck. I felt like a crew member of the doomed ship Nostromo in the sci-fi horror movie Alien being told by Ash the robot, “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathy.”
Being a soft touch, I tend to give kids second, third, fourth, tenth and twentieth chances to go straight before I throw the book at them. By then, I’m usually so fed up that I’m eager to seek the death penalty. When finally driven to hand up an indictment of fourth-grader Robespierre for constant rambunctiousness, brazen cheek and excessive mischief, I thought about tacking on charges of crimes against humanity.
Robespierre was flabbergasted when he was condemned to the “Honored Student Seat” in the first row until further notice.
“Hey, it’s by order of Principal Diesel,” I told him whenever he begged for parole. (I finally sprung him, much to my regret, after two weeks.)
Sometimes, entire groups are sentenced. Finally reaching my fill of their raucous antics, I sent eighth-graders Skeezix (half-gainer over a seat back; standing on his head), Otto (water fight), Spud (dancing in the aisles), Jethro (roughhousing), Coggins (casting foodstuffs), and Herkimer (aiding and abetting) to the Fishmeal Falls District’s version of The Hague.
Miscreants are given three strikes (write-ups) after which — in theory — they will be removed from the bus and assigned to another. I confess I felt much Judeo-Christian guilt when Lucifer, my most notorious sixth-grader, ended up on a vehicle driven by one of my colleagues. (Our small buses are often Devil’s Islands of the condemned.) I could only apologize and offer my sympathy while not lying to her about her chances.
Though the recidivism rate is sky-high, I press on despite a painful case of writer’s cramp from all the forms I fill out. I have to say it was a truly special moment the first time a chorus of “The Wheels on the Bus” broke out one morning. My middle schoolers switched the line “The driver on the bus says ‘Move on back, move on back, move on back’” to “The driver on the bus says ‘I’ll write you up!’ I’ll write you up! I’ll write you up!’”
They know. They’ve heard my tune many, many times.