Driving a School Bus

I don’t promote that I drive a school bus. My “business” at this point is church consultation and transitional/interim pastoring. But I’m prompted to write this for consideration by those in ministry who need an additional position that provides benefits. I read recently about a man who accepted the call to ministry who had been a school teacher, but upon accepting a church moved to driving a school bus.

Admittedly, I don’t need a job financially. I was able to “retire early” to move to the Atlanta area to be near my wife’s mom, who recently passed away. I have served congregations as a pastor in the interim.

Most of my life I have served as a fulltime pastor of congregations that have taken care of me financially. While I believe there will continue to be fulltime pastors, it’s expected that bi-vocational pastor positions will grow. In some cases pastors or church staff people need to do this to financially provide for themselves and their families. There is a growing number of ministers doing this so that they stay involved in the world of work to connect with people and witness.

So why am I driving a school bus? Over the past several months vocational church work has been slow for me. While I enjoy some time to myself, I enjoy being around people. My wife and I have a great relationship, and we talk a lot, but I am used to being in contact with multiple people. As a pastor I always seemed to have multiple individuals wanting to see me for various reasons. It’s odd to not have people needing or wanting to see me. Driving the school bus helps to fulfill that need.

People work for three basic reasons: pay, perks, and people. I don’t turn down money, but for me the perks and people are the most primary. Paying for health insurance out of my pocket is expensive. Working for the school district provides me with top-notch health insurance, as well as dental and eye care. And I’m not paying for it with money I’ve earned and paid taxes on. It’s paid for pre-tax, and having been a pastor of a church that is not connectional with its denomination, I know what insurance costs without a company underwriting the lion’s share of the cost.

How did I get into driving a school bus? While serving my last congregation I expressed an interest in driving the church bus–I love driving. A school bus driver and trainer was a member of this congregation. Long story short, she taught me how to drive a school bus, and I started driving for a local school district. I did leave that position at the end of the last school year with concerns about Covid and potentially passing the virus to my mother-in-law. After she passed away I explored driving for the school district I lived in and received a call from their recruiter within 90 minutes of submitting my application. There is usually a shortage of school bus drivers and having my CDL (commercial driver’s license) made me a hot commodity for the position.

To drive a school bus one must start by passing four written tests at your state’s motor vehicle department: general knowledge, passenger bus, school bus and air breaks. From there you have extensive training in the classroom and behind the wheel. A physical test must be passed that includes:

–pre-trip: you have to have extensive knowledge of your bus and its parts and check them for safety. You have to memorize the right procedure for checking the air breaks.

–range: this involves safely driving and backing the bus around cones including docking and parallel parking as well as demonstrating proper pick-up and drop off procedure. You also have to show the proper procedures to use in crossing railroad tracks.

–on-the road: driving the bus, making turns without hitting curbs and being able to note road signs you’ve seen while driving, handling tight intersections with other cars.

A school bus driver has to make good use of mirrors: crossover, flat and convex mirrors on the right and left side of the bus and the student/passenger mirrors to watch your students and see behind the bus. Seeing behind the bus with this mirror isn’t great if you’re driving a transit style vehicle.

With my new position I’m driving a sped (special education bus) which goes to students’ homes to drive them to their particular schools based on their needs. This allows me more individualized contact with parents, which I enjoy.

For vocational ministers this position doesn’t require as many hours as you may have to work doing other types of jobs. I know other pastors who drive school buses. You have off every weekend and other extended time, which you can use in ministry endeavors.

You do have to get up early, but you will typically have a few hours in-between your morning and afternoon shifts to do other work.

How long will I be a school bus driver? I don’t know. But I do enjoy it and know I’m playing an important part in the lives of children and their parents. I also have gotten to know teachers and administrators. I’ve found school bus drivers to be hard working, salt of the earth type people. If you’re interested and it fits your schedule, I’d recommend it.

I do have time to assist your church if you need consultation. My first consultation is free, and I’m interested in helping your congregation even if your are in a financially tight situation.

Ashton C. Smith

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