On Driving Bus & Paying Attention to Kids


The author driving bus

In the Driver’s Seat

The first thing I learned in my CDL training was that it’s “driving bus.” Not “driving a bus,” “driving the bus,” or even “driving school bus.” Just “driving bus.” Each Thursday, my teaching day begins and ends with driving bus. We’ve taken our students all over the state in a big, yellow school bus, from Milwaukee to Madison, from Aldo Leopold’s Shack to John Muir’s boyhood home, from school forests to state wildlife areas. When I’m driving bus, I’m free to observe aspects of student behavior that I don’t normally get to see in the classroom. I choose to observe the students in this context with an open, attentive mind. It’s amazing what you can see in the rearview mirror when you’re paying active attention.

From the Rearview

While driving bus, I’ve seen unexpected friendships flourish. Jamie and Nat are both eighth grade boys, but their similarities seem to end there. Jamie loves football, but Nat thinks it’s barbaric. Jamie looks before he leaps, while Nat is usually the last person to get ready. Jamie idolizes President Trump, and Nat… doesn’t. In the classroom, they sometimes seem to barely tolerate each other. Put them in the same seat on a bus for half an hour, though? The literal and metaphorical barriers between them drop away, and they’ll be chatting nonstop like old friends.

I’ve watched obvious friendships falter, too. Ted and Sam are extremely similar young men. Both are into computers and video games, and they each have a tendency to complete their work at the last minute. On the bus, though, they might barely speak to each other. Ted has been frustrated with Sam over some shenanigans on recent field experiences, and I think that the enforced proximity of the bus seat strained their relationship further.

I’ve watched relationships start and end (and restart, and re-end…). Lana and Tanner were antagonists when they started at my school, and remained that way for at least two years. To Lana, Tanner was annoying and immature. To Tanner, Lana was bossy and hypersensitive. They were on the same field team, so they rode near each other to and from our weekly field experiences. One day on the bus they seemed not only tolerant of each other’s presence, but even… happy to be together. Sure enough, they began dating soon thereafter. They’ve recently broken up to concentrate more on school, but they still seem pretty close on our bus rides.

I’ve watched laughter, tears, reading, and singing. Yes, I might have joined in on that last part a time or three. In short, I’ve been able to see my students as complex human beings, not the one-dimensional stereotypes (the slacker, the go-getter, the sad sack, the jock…) I sometimes hear other teachers reduce them to.

The author’s typical view

Tips from the Bus Driver

  1. The best teachers are genuinely curious about the lives of their students, inside and outside of the classroom. Your students should know that you are not simply punching the clock or faking an interest. My students know that I care enough to try and understand them better, and my connections with them are stronger as a result.
  2. When students feel connected to their teachers, they will be more willing to take risks in the classroom. In my classroom, I see students take these calculated risks every day, from trying to solve a math problem on their own to cold calling an expert resource to ask for an interview.
  3. You don’t have to interfere with your students to learn about them. Just try paying attention to what they’re up to and how they relate to one another. And if you can get yourselves outside of the classroom for a while, do it! You’ll be surprised and enlightened by what you see, whether or not you’re driving bus.



Skylar L. Primm (he/him)
GMWP: Greater Madison Writing Project

Cultivating students’ power, nurturing students’ joy, celebrating students’ humanity. 🧡🌱 skylarprimm.com