Teachers wear many hats. We are not merely instructing children on the arts of our subject areas, children who sit in straight rows with bright, shiny faces and raise their hands and remember their pencils, and whose lives are changed dramatically by our gentle encouragement to become the best they can be. I wish teaching was like that, but that’s for the movies. Teaching is actually more like this:
“Miss D., he’s poking me!”
“Miss D., I forgot my pencil! Actually someone stole it from my locker! Oh, and they stole my notebook and textbook too! I know, it’s weird someone would want to steal a grammar textbook, but I swear that’s what happened!”
“Miss D., are you seriously giving us a writing assignment?”
“Miss D., now he’s kicking my desk!”
“Miss D., are you seriously making us read?”
“Miss D., can we not do anything today? Can we just have nap time?”
“Miss D., now he’s trying to write on my arm!”
Teachers are mediators, nurses, counselors, referees, bosses, coaches, and listening ears — never mind attempting to squeeze in time for instructing the basic use of a conjunctive adverb. Last year, at the end of a particularly frazzling period with 7th graders, one of them looked at me and commented sincerely, “Man, your job must be so easy! You don’t even have to do homework like we do!” I looked at the stack of 65 research papers sitting on my desk waiting to be graded. I looked at my unfinished lesson plans for the next day and the next week. I looked around the room at 22 7th graders bouncing up and down in their seats. I felt my head pounding. I looked at the clock. It was only 9:45 a.m. Not good.
“Yep,” I said with a sigh. “My job is so easy.” He nodded, satisfied, and gathered his things for his next class.
Yesterday, I got the chance to try on a new teaching hat: Driving a bus. This is not something I signed up for when I went into teaching. I think I envisioned all the neat rows of students with bright, shiny faces raising their hands and having more fulfilled lives because of my teaching instruction – the ones in the movies. I did not envision getting up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to start a frosty yellow school bus and pick up a pile of speech kids who forget scripts and money and dress shirts at home.
But, when the athletic director informed me that I would be driving a bus to some of my speech meets, I swallowed my concern and nodded. I drive grain trucks and combines, I thought to myself. How hard can it be to drive a bus? I tried not to think of the fact that children whose parents love them deeply are a little more important that a heap of barley, and I tried not to think of the long train of oil trucks that usually accompany me to school in the morning, only yards behind my little SUV. Besides, this was one of the “short buses,” which is little more than a glorified 14-passenger van. Drivers don’t need a bus license for this kind of bus.
So instead of arguing, I got up yesterday morning at 5, drove to Watford, found my assigned bus in the bus lot, started it, scraped the frost off the windows (not an easy task when I am 5’1″ and the sad little ice scraper barely extends past my arm), messed around with the switches, figured out how to turn on the strobe lamp on top of the bus, turned on the heaters for the kids, and drove to the high school to pick them up. They piled on, faces excited for the first speech season of the year, and we took off.
And the thing is, it went just fine. The fog was a bit thick; the traffic was moderately heavy; it was early in the morning. But otherwise, I created a few rules in my mind and stuck to them:
- Hug the white line
- Keep distance from the oil trucks
- Don’t let the kids know I’ve never done this before
- Stop at railroad crossings (I only had to do this twice)
- Avoid giving obscene gestures to jerks while driving a vehicle plastered with our school name on the side
I didn’t mind trying on another hat, in the end. It was a good day. I had to endure a few comments, of course. When I parked the bus at our destination, the driver in the bus next to me looked at me in amazement. He leaned out his window. “You’re the tiniest bus driver I’ve ever seen!” he yelled with a grin on his face. My friend Allie also about died laughing when she saw me climb into the bus at the end of the speech meet. She’s an English teacher and spent a few years in a Class B school, so if anyone understands what it’s like to get roped into things, she does. “Be good to her!” she called to my kids before snapping a picture of me in my short bus.
The best part: God rewarded me with a sunrise in the badlands on my way there, lifting the fog just enough for me to see, and a sunset in the badlands on my way back. It was absolutely breathtaking. The other best part: My kids gathered their things when I parked at the school, thanked me sincerely for taking them, proclaimed how fun it was, and went cheerfully home to their parents. They never knew all the anxiety I suffered beforehand.
Yes, it was a good day. And what would teaching be without a few more hats?