11 Secrets of School Bus Drivers

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iStock

In many school districts, the face that parents and guardians see most frequently doesn’t belong to the principal, the teacher, or even other students—it’s the school bus driver, the man or woman charged with the awesome responsibility of getting dozens of children from their homes to their classroom in a safe and efficient manner.

It’s a serious and often thankless job. Districts fear there may even be a shortage of drivers for the 2017-18 school year, thanks to an improving economy and more career options. To better understand their duties, Mental Floss asked several school bus drivers about their experiences on and off the road. Here’s a glimpse of what goes on before, during, and after your kid hops on board.

1. THEY ASSIGN SEATS TO AVOID TROUBLE.

Kids on a school bus bounce out of their seats
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As kids get older, their on-bus behavior can start to become a distraction. To help curb tiny trouble, drivers can plan seat assignments that offer a better chance of cooperation. “Seating arrangement is really left up to the driver,” says Cindy, a former driver in Tennessee. “You find [most] children work best with having assigned seats. Middle and high school kids work best by separating the sexes—boys on one side, girls on the other. Front seats are best left open so students causing issues or with behavior problems can be assigned to sit on the driver’s right to be better monitored.”

2. THEY MIGHT TAKE IN A MOVIE DURING THE DAY.

School bus drivers usually have a staggered schedule, driving kids in different grades throughout the morning and then doing it in reverse later in the day. While that eats up more time than one might think, drivers who live close to the bus garage can drop off their wheels and do whatever they like for a good portion of the day. “I got done around 9 a.m. and didn’t have to be back to work until 1:30,” says Mike, a retired driver in Central New York. “Sometimes drivers will do a field trip or something, but I had a chunk of time to myself.”

Sounds breezy, but Mike and most other drivers are paid by the number of hours worked. “During the summer,” Mike says, “you don’t get paid.”

3. PARENTS CAN BE A BIGGER PROBLEM THAN THE KIDS.

A mother hugs her offspring in front of a school bus
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It’s not always the kids that misbehave. “I think it would surprise people how often parents tell their children they don't have to obey a driver,” Cindy says. “And because of that, very simple safety rule enforcement is a battle. It was more important for little Sally to have the right side and lean on her window than for her to be seated safely and facing forward.”

4. THERE’S A BENEFIT TO DRIVER SENIORITY.

Drivers who have been in the hot seat long enough to earn seniority can earn more money, but there are other perks. “In my district, drivers with the highest seniority got to drive the smaller, van-type buses,” Mike says. In addition to having fewer students on board, those drivers usually benefit from having a bus monitor riding along to ensure cooperation without having to take their eyes off the road.

5. KIDS (AND PARENTS) CAN GIVE THEM BRIBES.

A school bus passenger enjoys the ride
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Not all of the little hellraisers are out for blood. Some actually come on board bearing gifts or treats for drivers, especially around the holidays. “Some children will bring you things of their own volition such as a flower or candy bar,” Cindy says. And parents can sometimes let a little money change hands in exchange for a few perks. “Honking the horn for students, allowing things brought on the bus that aren't allowed [are examples],” she says. Such contraband might include chewing gum and open drinks. “Most drivers that received gifts from parents are the drivers that broke the rules for those parents. I've seen actual cash change hands.”

6. THEY PERFORM A LITTLE RITUAL AFTER EVERY ROUTE.

Once every kid has de-boarded, drivers usually have to walk the length of the bus to make sure there are no stragglers. “There’s a magnetic sign at the front of the bus, and at the end of the route you have to walk down the aisle and stick it up so it shows out of the back window,” Mike says. “More than once, I’ve found a kid sleeping or engrossed on their phone.”

7. THE EMERGENCY EXITS MAKE FOR A GOOD PRANK.

The rear emergency exit of a school bus
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Ever wonder how a bus driver closes the pneumatic door if he or she is the last one to leave? They actually can’t—not all the way, anyway. Depending on the make and model of bus, drivers might have to settle for closing it most of the way, but if it’s shut completely, the driver will have to enter via one of the emergency exits. “We used that as a prank every once in a while,” Mike says. “We’d get in the bus and shut the door tight, then leave via the emergency exit so the [next] driver would have to get in the same way.”

8. THEY CAN GET FREE FIELD TRIP ADMISSION.

Unlike limo drivers, bus drivers aren’t expected to hang out in the background while their tiny wards are off having fun at a destination. “During field trips, we are supposed to have free admission to wherever the students are visiting,” Cindy says. “If it was a trip over lunch, it's common for all drivers to take one bus to a restaurant together.”

9. REGULAR DRIVERS ARE THE WORST.

A school bus flashes its stop sign
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School buses aren’t made to stop quickly, which makes bad drivers the single biggest bane of a bus driver's existence. “The most stressful [thing] was other drivers being reckless while students are loading or unloading,” Cindy says. “Like running my stop sign, which resulted in at least one close call.”

10. THEY CAN FIND OUT WHO MADE A MESS.

Drivers are usually tasked with clean-up duty at the end of the day, finding everything from food to textbooks to things that are best left unmentioned. But Mike says they can often pinpoint the culprit. “Since we assigned seats, I know which kid was sitting where and who made what mess.”

11. THERE’S A REASON THEY KEEP KIDS SO SAFE.

A diminutive passenger smiles from inside a school bus
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Careful and skilled driving remains the best preventative measure for keeping school kids safe during their commute, but the overall layout of the bus matters too. The American School Bus Council (ASBC) calls it “compartmentalization,” the term for the kind of high-backed and padded seating arrangement that can distribute energy in the event of a crash. That, coupled with extensive driver instruction, makes it the safest ride around. “I think people would be surprised how much continuous education there is,” Mike says. He trained for 40 hours before making his first official departure. “It’s not just some old guy driving a truck.”

This Innovative Cutting Board Takes the Mess Out of Meal Prep

There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
TidyBoard, Kickstarter

Transferring food from the cutting board to the bowl—or scraps to the compost bin—can get a little messy, especially if you’re dealing with something that has a tendency to roll off the board, spill juice everywhere, or both (looking at you, cherry tomatoes).

The TidyBoard, available on Kickstarter, is a cutting board with attached containers that you can sweep your ingredients right into, taking the mess out of meal prep and saving you some counter space in the process. The board itself is 15 inches by 20 inches, and the container that fits in its empty slot is 14 inches long, 5.75 inches wide, and more than 4 inches deep. Two smaller containers fit inside the large one, making it easy to separate your ingredients.

Though the 4-pound board hangs off the edge of your counter, good old-fashioned physics will keep it from tipping off—as long as whatever you’re piling into the containers doesn’t exceed 9 pounds. It also comes with a second set of containers that work as strainers, so you can position the TidyBoard over the edge of your sink and drain excess water or juice from your ingredients as you go.

You can store food in the smaller containers, which have matching lids; and since they’re all made of BPA-free silicone, feel free to pop them in the microwave. (Remove the small stopper on top of the lid first for a built-in steaming hole.)

tidyboard storage containers
They also come in gray, if teal isn't your thing.
TidyBoard

Not only does the bamboo-made TidyBoard repel bacteria, it also won’t dull your knives or let strong odors seep into it. In short, it’s an opportunity to make cutting, cleaning, storing, and eating all easier, neater, and more efficient. Prices start at $79, and it’s expected to ship by October 2020—you can find out more details and order yours on Kickstarter.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Meet Ice Cream Scientist Dr. Maya Warren

Maya Warren
Maya Warren

Most people don’t think about the chemistry in their cone when enjoying a scoop of ice cream, but as a professional ice cream scientist, Dr. Maya Warren can’t stop thinking about it. A lot of complex science goes into every pint of ice cream, and it’s her job to share that knowledge with the people who make it—and to use that information to develop some innovative flavors of her own.

Unlike many people’s idea of a typical scientist, Warren isn’t stuck in a lab all day. Her role as senior director for international research and development for Cold Stone Creamery takes her to countries around the world. And after winning the 25th season of The Amazing Race in 2014, she’s now back in front of the camera to host Ice Cream Sundays with Dr. Maya on Instagram. In honor of National Ice Cream Month this July, we spoke with Dr. Warren about her sweet job.

How did you get involved in food science?

I fell in love with science at a really young age. I got Gak as a kid, you know the Nickelodeon stuff? And I remember wanting to make my own Gak. I remember getting a little kit and putting together the glue and all the coloring and whatever else I needed to make it. I also had make-your-own gummy candy sets. So I was always into making things myself.

I didn't really connect that to chemistry until later on in life. When I was in high school, I fell in love with chemistry. I decided at that point I should go to college to become a high school chemistry teacher. One day I was over at my best friend's house in college, and she had the TV on in her apartment. I remember watching the Food Network and there was a show on called Unwrapped, and they go in and show you how food is made on a manufacturing, production scale. In that particular episode, they went into a flavor chemistry lab. It was basically a wall full of vials with clear liquid inside them. They were about to flavor soda to make it taste like different parts of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. So you had green bean casserole-flavored soda, you had turkey and gravy-flavored soda, cranberry sauce soda. And I was like, "Oh my gosh, like how disgusting is this? But how cool is this! I could do this. I'm a chemist."

I love the science of food and how intriguing it is, and I had to ask myself, "Maya, what do you love?" And I was like, "I love ice cream! I’m going to become one of the world’s experts in frozen aerated deserts." I found a professor at UW Madison [where I earned my Ph.D. in food science], Dr. Richard Hartel, and he took me under his wing. Six and half years later, I’ve become an expert in ice cream and all its close cousins.

How did you arrive at your current position?

I didn't actually apply for the job. Six years ago, I was running The Amazing Race, the television show on CBS. After I was on it, a lot of publications reached out wanting to interview me. I did a couple of interviews and someone from Cold Stone found my interview. They noticed that I’m a scientist, and they were looking for someone with my background, so they reached out to me. I was actually writing my dissertation, and I was like, "I'm not looking for a job right now. I just want to go home and sleep."

I originally told myself I wasn't going to work for a year because I was so exhausted after graduate school and I needed some time off. But I ended up going to their office in Scottsdale for an interview. At that time, I still wasn't sure if was going to do it or not because I didn't want to move to Arizona. It's just so incredibly hot. I ended up being able to work something out with them where I didn't have to move Arizona. I came on board back in 2016. I started as a consultant at first because I didn't want to move. But then I proved I could make this work from afar.

What does your job at Cold Stone Creamery entail?

I'm the senior director for international research and development for Cold Stone Creamery. A lot of what I do is establishing dairies and building ice cream mixes for countries all across the globe. Dairy is a very expensive commodity. Milk fat is quite pricey. Cold Stone has locations all over the world, and they all need ice cream mixes. But sometimes bringing that ice cream from the United States into that country is extremely expensive, because of conflicts, because of taxes, different importation laws. A lot of what I do is helping those countries figure out how they can build their own dairies, or how can they work with local dairies to make ice cream mixes more affordable.

The other part of what I do is create new ice cream flavors for these places. I look at a local ingredient and say, "I see people in this country eating a lot of blank. Why don’t we turn that into ice cream? How would people feel about that?" I try to get these places to realize that ice cream is so much more than a scoop. In the States, we have ice cream bars, ice cream floats, ice cream sandwiches. But many countries don’t see ice cream like that. So getting these places to come on board with different ideas and platforms to grow their business is a big part of my job.

Ice cream scientist Maya Warren.
Maya Warren

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor you made on the job?

I made a product called honey cornbread and blackberry jam ice cream. Ice cream to me is a blank canvas. You can throw all kinds of paint at it—blue and red and yellow and orange and metallic and glitter and whatever else you want—and it becomes this masterpiece. That's how I look at ice cream.

Ice cream starts out with a white base that's full of milk fat and sugar and nonfat dry milk. It’s plain, it’s simple. For this flavor, I thought, "Why don’t I throw cornbread in ice cream mix?" I put in some honey, because that’s a good sweetener, and a little sea salt, because salt elevates taste, especially in sweeter desserts. And why don’t I use blackberry jam? When you’re eating it, you feel the gritty texture of cornbread, which is quite interesting. You get that pop of the berry flavor. There’s a complexity to the flavors, which is what I enjoy about what you can do with ice cream.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

One of the most rewarding things is being able to produce a product and see people eat it. The other part of it is being able to have a hand in helping people in different countries get on their feet. Ice cream isn’t a luxury for many people in America, but there are people in other countries that would look at it that way. Being able to introduce ice cream to these countries is fascinating to me. And being able to provide job opportunities for people, that sincerely touches my heart.

The last part is the fact that when I tell people I’m an ice cream scientist, it doesn’t matter how old the person is, they can’t believe it. I’m like, "I know, could you imagine doing what you love every day?" And that’s what I do. I love ice cream.

What are some misconceptions about being an ice cream scientist?

When I tell people what I do, they automatically think I just put flavors in ice cream. They don’t know that there’s a whole other part of it before you get to adding flavor. They don't think about the balancing of a mix, the chemistry that goes into ice cream, the microbiology part that goes into ice cream, the flavor science that goes into ice cream. There’s so much hardcore science that goes into being an ice cream scientist. Ice cream, believe it or not, is one of the most complex foods known to man (and woman). It is a solid, it’s a gas, and it’s also a liquid all in one. So the solid phase comes in via the ice crystals and partially coalesced fat globules. The gas phase comes in via the air cells. Ice cream usually ranges from 27 to 30 percent overrun, which is the measurement of aeration in ice cream. You also have your liquid phase. There’s a semi-liquid to component to ice cream that we don’t see, but there’s a little bit of liquid in there.

People don’t think about ice crystals and air cells when they think about ice cream. They really don’t think partially coalesced fat globules. But it’s really fun to connect the science of ice cream to the common knowledge people have about this product they eat so much.

If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t an ice cream scientist, I think that I would have been a motivational speaker. When I was a kid, my parents would send me to camp, and I remember having a lot of motivational speakers that would come in and talk to us. I always wanted to do that as a kid. So it’s either between that or a sport medicine doctor, because that was the track I was on in college. So if I didn’t figure out food science, I probably would have gone back to sports medicine. But I’m glad I didn’t go down that path, because I think I have one of the coolest and sweetest jobs—pun intended—that exists on planet Earth.

You’ve been hosting Ice Cream Sundays on Instagram Live since May. What inspired this?

At the beginning of quarantine, I was like, "What am I going to do? I can't travel anywhere. What am I going to do with all this extra time?" I was on Instagram, and I started seeing people at the very beginning of this make all this bread. And I was like, "I need to start talking about ice cream more. Ice cream can’t be left out of this conversation."

I started making ice cream and posting here and there, and people would ask me about it, and I would ask them, "Do you have an ice cream maker?" I put a poll up and 70, 80 percent of people who replied did not have ice cream makers. So I was like, "How am I going to make people happy with ice cream if all I do is show photos and they can’t make it?" Then I decided to make a no-churn ice cream. That’s not how you make it in the industry, but it’s how you make it at home if you don’t have an ice cream machine. I think it was around May 3, I decided I was going to do an Instagram Live. I’m going to call it Ice Cream Sundays with Dr. Maya, and I’ll just see where it goes from there.

I did one, and from the beginning, people were so in love with it. Then I thought, "Whoa, I guess I should continue doing this." I’ve made a calendar. People really attend. People make the ice cream. People watch me on Live. I’ve always wanted to have a television show on ice cream. I figured, if I can’t do a show on ice cream right now on a major network, I might as well start a show on Instagram.

What advice do you give to young people interested in becoming ice cream scientists?

My advice is: If you want to do it, do it. Don’t forget to work hard, but have fun along the way. And if ice cream isn’t necessarily the realm for you, make sure whatever you do makes your heart flutter. My heart flutters when I think about ice cream. I am so intrigued with it. So if you find something that makes your heart flutter, no one can ever take away your desire for it. If it is ice cream, we can get down and dirty with it. I can tell them about the science behind it, the biology, the microbiology that goes into ice cream itself. But I just encourage people to follow their heart and have fun with whatever they do.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

If we’re talking just general flavors, I love a good cookies and cream. I’m an Oreo fan. I also make a double butter candy pecan that is my absolute jam.