This past fall, I didn’t take a permanent route, as for the first time since I’ve been driving the past five years, we had plenty of new recruits looking for routes to drive. Instead, I signed up for doing a long-term sub route. These are created when a driver has to miss multiple weeks, usually because of a medical condition.
I grabbed an afternoon route that would take me through the first 10-12 weeks of the school year. The route consisted of a middle school route, and two elementary routes in that two-and-a-half hour span. On the first day of driving, I introduced myself to the students and let them know I would be around for awhile.
The middle school students on the first route gave me the “silent acknowledgement” treatment. On the next route, an elementary run, one of those close to the front responded, "My name is Brent," after I told them they could call me Lee or Mr. Lee, whichever they preferred.
Bus driver: "Hi Brent," I quickly called back.
This started a cavalcade of "My name is ....." of 6-7 bright eyed kindergarten and first graders. It took a couple of days while I was still sorting out those names with the faces.
By the end of the second week, I had to ask the first name of a student who had been pointed out by others as “calling us naughty names” the previous afternoon. As he mounted the stairs to the bus, I stopped him and asked him to tell me his first name. Not to my amazement, he responded with his name, which I documented in my memory for future reference. I then gave him a brief reprimand and told him that we would not allow that kind of inappropriate language on the bus.
Here's the thing about names. Everyone likes to be acknowledged and called by their name. It has significance. But when you haul 150 different kids every afternoon, and they get off the bus in groups of 10-15 at a time, it's hard to differentiate.
What I've learned is that you really only need to know the names of about five kids on every route. At least at the start. First, you need to learn the names of two of the “ring leaders,” the head troublemakers. If you call out their name, you have immediately caught the attention of 20 others.
Second, you need to learn the names of two of the “leaders,” older kids who like to take control. They can help monitor the other kids, especially in the back of the bus, where your steely gaze and stern voice might not have as much impact.
Lastly, is more of a type of name. Oddly enough, over the course of the last five years, I have found that any kid bearing the name of a significant Old Testament figure from the Bible, requires special “attention.” These kids, with names like Isaac, Elijah and Noah must be recognized immediately and taken into account.
Their impact can be one of “historical proportions.”