Yeah, I know. Bus Dwivah, too, would have preferred to just put the kids down and let 'em graze. They'd be funnier that way. A school bus, however, is presumably first and foremost a form of transportation, a method of getting the little savages from their homes to the school so they can be subjected to civilizing influences and grow up to get good jobs, marry well and pay taxes to buy more school buses.
Bus drivers are fond of saying to school teachers who are complaining about disciplinary problems in the classroom: "You have twenty-five students in front of you. I have seventy-two behind me!"
An adversarial relationship exists between school teachers and bus drivers. There should be a module in the elementary school education curriculum called "Cause and Effect: How what you do in the classroom can result in catastrophic misbehavior on the school bus."
Earlier in this chronicle I talked about Arbor Day, when the teachers loose a battalion of pine-tree-bearing youngsters on the defenseless bus driver, and about 'creating the solar system' day when they send a lesser but still significant number of kids home carrying a bulky and dangerous contraption of dowel rods and Styrofoam ball planets.
Both of those pale in comparison to holiday parties. Before Thanksgiving, before Christmas (oops, not PC - Winter Holidays), on birthdays, lunatic, vengeful teachers pour gallons of Mountain Dew and Coke down the throats of little barbarians, feed them heavily sugared cookies and cupcakes, and then, just as the population reaches critical mass of sugar high and caffeine trip, they load them on my school bus. It's equivalent to handing Hannibal Lecter a six-pack of Red Bull and a box of Ginzu knives. The suspension system of the bus vibrates with the nervous energy, the already shrill voices climb a couple of octaves. I recommended more than once that when a child's mother sends a box of cupcakes (and think before you decorate, Moms. Are those extra little sugary sprinkles really necessary?) to school for the child's birthday party, she should be required to also supply a small vial of Valium for the bus driver. Or for the kids, doesn't matter, as long as somebody is medicated.
(By the way, has anybody stopped to consider Who the thanks is being offered up to on Thanksgiving? What will be the new PC term for that celebration? "Vague Sense of Obligation Day"? "General Feeling that I Am Fortunate Day"? Or will we just leap right to the inevitable conclusion? "Thanks, My Foot! I'm Entitled Day" ?)
Bus Dwivah must pause here for a few deep breaths and Zen contemplation before proceeding.
Ah, yes, discipline. It's an unpleasant word (unless you're, you know, into discipline, which I am not), with a number of definitions. For our purposes here, the meaning of 'discipline' is: To exert sufficient control over the population of small children on the school bus to ensure arrival at destination with a full complement of limbs, eyes, notebooks, glasses, musical instruments, pine trees solar systems, and wherever possible, self-esteem.
Any conscientious bus driver develops a system for disciplining passengers, or dies in the attempt. There are varying degrees of transgression, and there must be a corresponding scale of punishment. If dead sexy Martin pushes Constance Marie the kissing bandit away because she's trying to plant a juicy smacker on his mouth, that is less egregious than if Martin wearies of Constance Marie gazing adoringly at him around the corner of the seat and stalks up to slap her upside the head. For the first, he has to apologize and sit in the Front Seat of Shame. For the second, he is sent to the penitentiary. You see? (Actually, in the first instance, both participants end up in a Front Seat of Shame - on opposite sides of the aisle, for what should be obvious reasons.)
Children are like people in that they can have an occasional bad day, when the dog really did eat their homework, but everybody knows you can't use that excuse anymore. Maybe there were no Cocoa Puffs in the larder, maybe Mom didn't wash the socks Joey's been wearing every day since Hallowe'en because they're lucky and go with everything. Whatever. In an isolated moment of insanity, a bad-day-having-child can slip and let fly Dad's favorite obscenity. A momentary lapse in judgment can be forgiven with a gentle admonition.
- Verbal reprimand. This takes a number of forms.
"For the last time, Constance Marie, stop staring at Martin."
"Mikie, it's funny when your dog does it, maybe, but not when you do it. Stop that."
A verbal reprimand is easily recognized by an emphasizing addition at the end of the sentence, such as "or else" or "I mean it".
- Parental note.
"Please ask Constance Marie to stop kissing everybody." In a parental note, the issue must be identified (kissing) and an explanation for the request (I'm afraid somebody will get hurt).
Parental notes are rarely effective, but they do provoke amusing responses, e.g.: "I am sorry Constance Marie's kissing has become a safety issue, but I was a child of the 60's and I believe in free love." Or, "When I asked you to move Joey out of the seat with Davie because Davie kept getting him in trouble, and you moved Joey into the seat with Shawn who also kept getting Joey in trouble and I asked you to move him again, I did not expect you to move him into the seat between the diabolical Sister Margaret, the youngest novice nun in history, and Saint Mairzy, who also keep getting my angel baby Joey in trouble. Please correct this injustice at once. Joey is getting a complex."
Your response to a parental note from your child's bus driver.
i. Bad message (usually verbal): "Tell that @#$(*&@ bus driver if she doesn't keep that (*&(*& b******* Jesse away from you, I'll have her job!" (This message is ill-advised because in many instances, Bus Dwivah, at the "I'll have her job!" part, will cry, "Oh, thank Heaven!" and toss you the keys.)
Good message (usually in writing): Dear Bus Driver: Mikie and Jesse seem to have a personality conflict. (Something in Jesse's personality makes Jonathan want to bite him). Can you please keep them separated? Thank you, Jonathan's mom.
ii. Bad message: "Tell that idiot bus driver she's the biggest a****** I've ever seen."
iii. Good message: Dear Bus Driver: Is it possible to drop Lance at the next driveway down the hill? If not, I'm sure you must have a good reason.
iv. Bad message: Mom says she hates your f****** guts and she's f***ing tired of you throwing me off the bus.
v. Good message: Bus Driver: It has become apparent that Lincoln has a few behavioral problems on the bus (e.g., trying to throw Mairzy Doats out the window, burning his geography book in seat #4.) When would be a good time to get together to work on these problems? Lincoln's Mom.
Parent, please don't call me to a conference at the school with the principal because I 'wrote up' your first grader for throwing paper wads. Trust me. She did it. I saw her do it. I don't care what she tells you. She's already in trouble at school and on the bus. Why would she risk trouble at home by telling you the truth? And, really, think about it. How would it profit me to frame your first-grader with a trumped-up charge? And even if she didn't throw paper wads today, she did yesterday, or will tomorrow. An inaccurate 'write up' should be considered a matter of timing, not truth.
When parent and Bus Dwivah are discussing an incident resulting in a "Bus Conduct Report," a FABQ (frequently asked bus question) is, "Did you ask Lincolnwhat happened?" Do you think, parent, that I asked Connor what happened and threw Lincoln's testimony out as inadmissible?
Yes, I did question Lincoln. I said, "Lincoln, why did you hit Connor with your reading folder?"
Your son said, "Because I didn't have my math folder?"
- In-motion discipline. This is direct and to the point, and perhaps easiest explained by reciting the caption on my Bus Dwivah sweatshirt: "Get in, sit down, hold on and shut up."
- Front Seat of Shame. Nobody wants to sit in the front seat of a bus for the same reason nobody wants to sit in the front pew at church. You're visible there. This is an effective tool at eliciting acceptable social behavior from a rabid fifth grader. He doesn't want to sit in the front seat with the little baby kindergarten kids. Heh heh. Then he had better behave, hadn't he?
- Reorganization. A Bus Dwivah maxim: A seating chart is not carved in stone, it is a work in progress. There will come a time when Joey has shared a seat with every possible combination of seatmates and you will have to try to break it to his mother that it's Joey who is getting Joey in trouble, but we're not there yet.
- Upline referrals. In rare instances, it may be necessary to send a miscreant to the principal with an accusatory note stapled to his/her chest. (Joey is unable to ride the bus for twenty-five minutes without one or both of his seatmates screaming in pain and/or blood being shed. Please address this with Joey.) This is not done without careful thought, unless the bus driver wants to spend an hour in the principal's office with Joey and his mother, being accused of bias and prejudicial treatment.
- Stopping the bus. I have never quite figured out why this move is so effective. It could be as simple as the kids just want to get off the bus and home to video games and potato chips, and are willing to cooperate long enough to make that happen. Stopping the bus is a move that requires judicious use and careful timing (if you stop the bus too often, it loses its punch, and you have to be sure the crisis reaches its peak just as you are approaching the spacious parking lot in front of the Shop 'n' Save, so there is a place to stop the bus, and a way to get it back on the road again).
- Bus Dwivah's disciplinary scale stops there. Some bus drivers don't stop there, and those are the ones you see on CNN morning news, complete with bus camera video tape and opposing lawyer sock puppets.
Justin is a likeable kid with a little too much vitality for his own good. He appears to have springs in the seat of his Levis which activate the moment he sits down, bouncing him back up on his feet while the bus is moving. Bus Dwivah has remonstrated with him on several occasions, and Justin sincerely promises to do better, and tries, but those darn springs…
Out of concern for Justin's safety, and everyone else's, Bus Dwivah consigns him to the Front Seat of Shame. After a few days, the lesson seems to have sunk in, and Justin is released to return to a more properly dignified position near the back of the bus. In a few minutes, Justin is out of his seat, and Bus Dwivah summons him back to the front seat.
On Friday evenings, if no one has had to be taken to the emergency room, and nobody threw Sam's French horn out the window, smashing the windshield of the Lexus following the bus, Bus Dwivah allows the children to disregard the seating chart and sit where they like. Why it is such a thrill for small children to sit in a different identical bus seat is beyond my understanding, too.
Justin, who has been so long in the Front Seat of Shame that moss is growing on his north side, says, "Can I sit where I want tonight, too?"
Bus Dwivah fixes him with a warning glance. "Okay, Justin, we'll try it. But if you mess up, you're going to sit in the front seat until you graduate."
Justin stands still for a moment, thinking, then with a sigh throws himself back down into the Front Seat of Shame. "I'll just stay here then," he says. "I don't trust myself."