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Learning to Live With Bus Duty

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It’s 10 degrees above zero in lovely Northern Virginia, with a wind chill factor of 5 below. I stand in the school crosswalk directing children and parents to the snow-covered sidewalk that leads from the nearby apartments. It is my first-ever day of bus duty, and I am hatless in my old blue coat. I shiver for 30 minutes while the kids and parents straggle into school. My glasses are frozen to my face, and I can hardly feel my fingers to open my lip balm.

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I dodge 18 buses and stop 17 cars from coming into the parking lot. I wonder where my 5th grade patrols are. They’re no fools—I’m sure their mothers told them it was too cold to be on patrol. Where is my OWN mother when I need her?

I come from a long line of crossing guards and patrols. My mother was the crossing guard at our elementary school for years when we were young. She received a commendation from the Indianapolis Public School System when she decided to take a job that paid more than $2.00 an hour and didn’t give her nightmares about children being hit by cars.

As the last bus disgorges its load, I look around and realize there are no other teachers or administrators outside on this frigid day. I guess they are smart enough to do their duty assignments in the building as much as possible. I hurry to the nearest school entrance and find that there has been another security alert and that the exterior doors have been locked. By the time I make it around to the one front door that is open, I am shaking so hard I am not sure I can ever get warm again. I stop in the Parent Center for their always-simmering coffee, and find myself spilling the drink because I cannot stop shivering.

I walk down the hall to my computer lab, open up my laptop, and surf straight to the Land’s End Web site. I don’t care how much it costs or what else I should be doing—I am buying a warm coat now. In the “overstocks,” I find a long parka with a guarantee of warmth down to 20 below. It has a hood and a thousand pockets and won't make me look like the Michelin Man. This is the parka for me. But, oh dear—there are only two colors left: white—never!—and, oh dear again—magenta. Oh, well, who cares? At least I’ll be warm and the buses will certainly see me. I pay for rush shipping and sigh in relief. Only a few more days to freeze.

When I started at my new school in December, I walked the halls freely between 8:45 and 9:20 a.m. or at the end of the day, and thought, “My dutyless days are numbered. They are going to notice me soon, and then it will all be over.” Two months later, they did.

All my professional life I have dreaded bus duty. I have spent most of my 30-plus years of teaching in an early childhood program, where we worked out of a central office with no PTA, no cafeteria food, and no duties. When we in the preschool special education program would complain about the onerous duties of our jobs—cockroach-filled apartments, neglected children, IEPs, etc.,—we would always conclude that we still had it good, because at least we didn’t have to do bus duty. Three short months ago, in my previous job as a teacher-leader for a district technology program, I was doing business lunches with the head of AOL@school and the national education manager for Intel. And now I do bus duty. How the mighty have fallen!

Three frozen duty days later, I get home to find that my daughter has come by and left the Land’s End box in a prominent place with a big smiley-face sticky note—“Your parka is here!” The whole family is in on this. I try it on. Oh dear—it is definitely magenta. And it is huge. I am thinking raspberry Dreamsicle. ...

I wear my new coat Friday and revel in the warmth. I also begin to enjoy the actual duty. I realize that I have the opportunity to smile and speak to more than one hundred parents and children who walk to and from school daily. I can wish them a good morning or a good night, and can make some connections that are hard to accomplish when all I do is teach in the computer lab.

I begin to joke with the parents and kids, and I start to enjoy the power of the lifted mitten—I can stop a 1.5-ton car with the wave of my hand. I can yell “Walk” and the kids actually stop running. As hard as this transition has been, I am now contributing to this school.

Real teachers do bus duty.

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