The Secret World Of School Bus Drivers

A school bus driver is the first person parents trust with keeping their students safe in the morning. Carrying such precious cargo is a lot of responsibility, and school bus drivers are always more than up for the task. But have you ever wondered what life is like for them? How do they organize the kids during the drive? What do they do when school is in session? How much do they work during the summer when school is out of session? These are the secrets of school bus drivers that no one was telling you until now!

Assigned Seats Can Be A Lifesaver

students on a school bus
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Children can be unruly, and when you put a lot of them on a school bus, chaos can break out. To avoid this, some bus drivers will assign seats, breaking up groups that they know can cause trouble.

According to a former driver in Tennessee, “You find children work best with having assigned seats… boys on one side, girls on the other. Front seats are best left open so students causing issues or with behavior problems can be assigned to sit on the driver’s right to be better monitored.”

Their Schedules Are Open During The Day

school bus drivers posing for a picture
Matt Jonas/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images
Matt Jonas/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

For most school bus drivers the job involves driving kids to school, and then dropping them back off at home at the end of the day. While they are still on the clock in the middle of the day, they can do anything they want.

A retired driver from New York revealed, “I got done around 9 a.m. and didn’t have to be back to work until 1:30… Sometimes drivers will do a field trip or something, but I had a chunk of time to myself.”

Summer Can Be Rough On The Wallet

a parked school bus
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

In most districts, bus drivers are paid by the hour and are not on salary. That means when school is not in session, they don’t get paid. While financial smarts can help drivers plan for small breaks like winter, summer can be brutal on the wallet.

As retired driver Mike says, “During the summer, you don’t get paid.” This means drivers must find a secondary source of income during this time, which is often easier said than done.

Parents Can Be Worse Than Kids

a parent waving to a school bus
Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Surprisingly, sometimes it’s not the kids on the bus the drivers need to worry about, it’s their parents. When they drop their kids off at the bus, parents don’t always give their kids the best advice. According to one bus driver, “I think it would surprise people how often parents tell their children they don’t have to obey a driver.”

Another driver gave this example. “It was more important for little Sally to have the right side and lean on her window than for her to be seated safely and facing forward.”

Drivers With More Experience Get More Perks

school buses on the road
Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The longer you drive a school bus, the more perks you get. Those who have driven the longest get options like driver smaller buses with fewer kids. Other perks can include having a “bus monitor” on board to help with cooperation.

And of course, those who drive for years on end have greater financial stability and earn higher paydays. If they earn enough they might even be able to enjoy their summers stress-free!

Bribing Drivers Is Not Out Of The Question

pictures drawn by kids on the roof of the school bus
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Apparently, some drivers are not above taking bribes to give preferential treatment to children. While some kids will give drivers candy or gifts out of the kindness of their hearts, others want something in return. As one driver explains:

“Honking the horn for students, allowing things brought on the bus that aren’t allowed… Most drivers that received gifts from parents are the drivers that broke the rules for those parents. I’ve seen actual cash change hands.”

Some Kids Don’t Get Off The Bus

school bus driver with a student
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

After dropping the children off at school, it’s imperative for bus drivers to walk up and down the aisles. It’s not uncommon for them to find kids who are so engrossed in their phones that they forget to get off.

Sometimes, kids are even fast asleep. Many bus drivers look at this part of the job as a ritual. “There’s a magnetic sign at the front of the bus, and at the end of the route you have to walk down the aisle and stick it up so it shows out of the back window,” shared one driver.

Drivers Like To Prank Each Other

a school bus emergency exit
Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

One thing school bus drivers love to do is prank each other, and one prank is easily their favorite. When a driver is the last one to get off the bus, they can’t close the door all way because it can’t be opened from the outside.

When they want to mess with a fellow driver, though, “We’d get in the bus and shut the door tight, then leave via the emergency exit so the [next] driver would have to get in the same way.”

They Get Into Field Trips For Free

a school bus pulling up to an amusement park
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

On days that school bus drivers take classes on field trips, most schools make sure they get to participate in the activity, too. This means free admission to places like museums and aquariums.

Drivers also stick together if multiple buses were used. It the field trip is a quick one during lunch, they’ll even pack into one bus, go to a restaurant, and enjoy a nice lunch together while the kids do their activity.

Normal Drivers Are Annoying

a bus driver putting out safety cones
Marvin Joseph/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
Marvin Joseph/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

One of the biggest gripes of school bus drivers is that regular drivers don’t respect their stop sign. One driver admits that this has led to one close call: “The most stressful [thing] was other drivers being reckless while students are loading or unloading.”

It’s also important to remember that school buses can’t make sudden stops, so drivers who tend to slam on the breaks at the last second should probably drive in other lanes.

There’s Another Advantage To Assigned Seats

driver cleaning school bus
Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Another reason that bus drivers will assign seats to students is that it helps them identify anyone who left a mess behind. One of the jobs that bus drivers have that we haven’t touched on yet is cleaning the bus after the students are dropped off.

Oftentimes, students will leave behind textbooks or other valuables that need to be returned. Other times they leave messes that no one should be responsible for having to clean up!

School Buses Are Extremely Safe

kids on a school bus
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Although it might not always feel that way when you’re sitting on a school with no seatbelt and barely any legroom, these vehicles are actually some of the safest on the road. They have been designed to be able to distribute energy evenly in the event of a crash, keeping kids as safe as possible.

Drivers undergo intense training before they are allowed behind the wheel, too. One driver says he had to complete 40 hours of training because keeping kids safe is that important!

There’s A Driver Shortage

school bus driver behind the wheel
Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Being a school bus driver isn’t a glamorous job, and as a result, not many people are running to get into the profession. That means that for many districts there are driver shortages that need to be addressed.

In one county in West Virginia, some bus routes were even canceled because there weren’t enough drivers. The ongoing shortages mean that it can be nearly impossible to get fired as a school bus driver. Instead, drivers who mess up will get suspended, but get to keep their job.

The School Bus Doesn’t Always Come To You

a school bus stopped in the middle of the road
Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

For safety purposes, school buses do not pull up to every house. Sometimes parents must take their kids to designated stops. This is because some driveways or streets have turns that are too sharp or hills that are too steep for buses to safely travel.

While this can be annoying for parents, it can be even worse for drivers when kids aren’t at their stop on time. The bus needs to stay on schedule, and there is no rule saying the driver has to wait for you.

They Know Your Secrets

a school bus driver greeting new students
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

When talking with your child’s school bus driver it’s important to remember one thing — they know all your secrets. Kids talk and bus drivers listen, even if they’re not trying. It’s part of the territory that comes with being a school bus driver.

This may sound like an invasion of privacy, but it can also help identify bullying or when students are being targeted by other students. It also means the driver likely knows if you’re going through a divorce.

Touching Students Is Never Allowed, Not Even For Medical Emergencies

a school bus driver working with students
Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

One of the most important rules that school bus drivers must follow is that they can never touch students on the bus — not even if there is a medical emergency. This rule is put in place for the safety of the students.

When an emergency does occur, the only action the driver can take is to drop the kid off at school or back at home. The choice comes down to whichever destination is closer.

They Know How Your Kid Behaves

kids waving from the school bus
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It’s not out of the ordinary to think your child behaves differently at school then they do at home. For many kids, that behavior shift begins on the bus, so if you want to know what your kid is really like, just ask your bus driver.

Talking to your driver and listening to what they have to say could surprise you. You might find out your child is an angel, a bully, being bullied, or many other things.

Always Give Accurate Contact Information To Drivers

kids sticking their heads out of the school bus
Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

At the start of every school year, make sure that the contact information you provide to school bus drivers is accurate. If there is an emergency and the driver needs to call you or another family member, this is crucial.

Remember, school bus drivers are the first person you hand your child off to at the start of the day. Being able to keep your child safe starts with them, so they need to have the correct information at all times.

Kids Don’t Always Listen To Safety Rules

a school bus driver giving instructions
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Try as bus drivers might to keep kids safe, young ones don’t always follow the rules. Some of the biggest pet peeves of bus drivers are when kids stick their hands or heads out of the window and don’t look both ways before crossing the street.

Bus drivers will always do their best to make sure kids follow the rules, but depending on how many are on the bus this can be surprisingly difficult.

Drivers Can’t Stop Every Fight

bus driver greets students
Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for students to get into fights while on the bus, especially verbal ones. As far as stopping these fights go, there’s not always something a driver can do. If the fight happens in the back of the bus, the driver probably doesn’t know about it.

The only fights the driver can stop are the obvious ones. The ones they can hear right away or see clearly in their rearview mirror.