Driver Does Not Tolerate Abusive Language
He Tells Students What He Expects
Adults need to speak up. You have to let children know that bad language is just not acceptable, says Pennsylvania bus driver Chuck Thompson.
Although he doesn't get a lot of bad language from his suburban elementary and middle school students, Thompson believes that part of his success comes from letting his students know what he expects and what he will tolerate. Find out more in this interview.
I don't get a lot of bad language, but letting students know how I expect them to behave helps. Two things I always do are set expectations and nip problems in the bud. I start off the school year with my expectations. We have a list of ten rules of conduct for riding a school bus posted in the front of the bus. And number two says, "Do not use profanity." On the first trip, I get to school and I stand up and say, "See these rules. I expect you to abide by them."
Any inappropriate behavior I address immediately. Whenever possible, I talk to the student one-on-one, to avoid embarrassment and aggravating the problem. Just talking to the kids is important. Sometimes, a student will curse, and I'll let everybody else get off the bus and then the two of us go over whatever the inappropriate behavior was: "Johnny, you shouldn't have spoken that way to Sally. You know she doesn't like that and it's upsetting. It's not the right thing to do. I expect better of you." I use discussion as an initial intervention.
I have not had problems escalate. But, I've set down the rules up front and they know I’m going to call them on it.
If I'm driving when somebody says something, I glance up in the mirror and make eye contact in the area where I think it came from. One time I wasn't sure who had been cursing, but the perpetrator, when he got off the bus, said, "Mr. Chuck, I'm sorry, I was the one who said it." Or I'll just holler if I hear the f-word. "Hey. Yo, knock it off." It helps that they know if I hear it, I'm gonna do something. Students know I’m not going to tolerate profanity. They might swear somewhere else, but they know they're not going to do it on my bus or around me, because I'm not going to accept it.
I do diversity training for NEA, so I kind of have a feel for language as it relates to gender and sexual preferences. When a middle schooler says, "He's gay." I'll say, "Hey, come on now. Let's not bash people. We need to be tolerant of people's differences. It's okay to be different. And they give me "the look." Like where is he coming from, but I just want to plant a seed in their mind. Maybe it sounds weird now, but next year or later on, maybe it will hit them, maybe it will help them change the way they approach things. And I guess I have a sense about these things. I was raised in a predominantly White community and I was subjected to some name calling, so I guess maybe I'm a little more sensitive to it than others. Sometimes, I'll say to name callers: "How would you like to be called that name or by language that's offensive to you?" Students need to hear adults saying these things.
First, you have to make a quick evaluation if it's a serious threat or not. If someone says, "I'm gonna kill you, right away you have to decide is he serious, does he have issues, or is he (or she) just being kind of a playful. If the student is really serious in the threat, I would handle it very gingerly. Because bus drivers see students first thing in the morning, we may be the first to observe a change in a student’s behavior. We must talk with kids about the potential problems of making threats. "Hey, that's very serious. Threatening to harm someone physically. You shouldn't use words like that because they may cause somebody to react to you by hurting you first." My attitude about abusive language is "What you do at home and what you do elsewhere, I can't control. All I can control is what happens in my area. And hopefully my actions will help you do better in other areas of society."
Chuck Thompson, an educational support professional, has been a school bus driver in Radnor Township School District, a suburban district in Wayne, Pennsylvania, for the past ten years. Prior to that, he worked as a bus driver and manager in public mass transit. Thompson also serves as an At Large Director on the NEA board of directors.
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