What Do Bus Monitors Do?
The behavior of a group of seventh grade boys towards a bus monitor last week engendered outrage and sympathy throughout the country. A video of the incident posted on YouTube horrified most adults, myself included, and resulted in the kind of instant celebrity for bus monitor Karen Klein that sometimes occurs in our social networking society. At this writing, supporters have contributed over a half million dollars to send Ms. Klein on a memorable vacation or maybe even into retirement
At the risk of looking like a total jerk, however, I have to admit that as a former long-time school administrator, a few questions popped into my mind after viewing the video. First of all, I wondered about the specific responsibilities of bus monitors in the school district. Aren’t they supposed to keep order on the buses and make sure kids behave themselves? Would Ms. Klein have intervened if the target of the bullying were another student? One would certainly hope so. But then we have to ask, why would she allow kids to bully her?
In my experience, it seems unlikely that what was caught on camera was a totally isolated incident, something that had never happened before. It’s hard to believe that this kind of behavior hadn’t been escalating for some time as kids discovered they could be cruel with impunity. So the question has to be, why didn’t Ms. Klein report this behavior before? And why didn’t she report that particular day’s incident, which would have gone unnoticed except for the video?
Well, here are a few possible reasons and it’s only speculation based on my own experience. First, she may not have wanted to say anything for fear of looking like she couldn’t handle the job (as first-year teachers often do). Second, she may have been unsure whether anything would have been done. Third, she may have felt humbly that she was “only a bus monitor.” But lastly, and most importantly, she may have felt that parents would give her a hard time and it wouldn’t be worth the hassle.
Bus drivers (Ms. Klein was a driver for 20 years) and bus monitors have tough jobs. Drivers are required to have specific training, but one has to wonder what training and what kind of support Ms. Klein had. My sympathy goes out to her, but let’s be clear: The district has to take a close look at why this incident occurred and whether it’s truly an isolated case. It’s not just about four random seventh grade boys who decided on a whim to act like jerks on this particular day. And by the way, my guess is that incidents like this are not limited to one district in upstate New York. Maybe school districts that employ bus monitors might put training on their summer calendars.
Consequences of the students' behavior have not yet been determined or have not been revealed. Just let me say this: Nothing gets a parent's attention and future cooperation like having to transport his or her kid to and from school for an extended period of time.