Terry Cobb never planned to become a school bus driver.
Really, she did it for the health insurance.
When she lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, she thrived in the corporate world at Florida Progress Corporation. Her husband, Bill, was a surgeon. When he retired in 2006, the couple and their teenage daughter relocated to Watkinsville, Georgia.
“For the first time ever we didn’t have health insurance through our employment,” Cobb says. “I was shocked by how expensive it was.”
Driving around town one day, the stay-at-home mom says she saw signs outside the local school about school bus drivers — health insurance included. Cobb, then 53, jumped at the part-time opportunity with the Oconee County School District.
The Benefits of Becoming a School Bus Driver
Thanks to her new gig maneuvering a big yellow bus full of kids down country roads and through town, Cobb and her family finally had health insurance.
“That in of itself was worth it,” Cobb says. Cobb even had a 401(k) option.
Then there’s the extra income. The average pay as of May 2015 was $14.70 per hour, with an average yearly income of $30,580, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Cobb says her earnings weren’t close to that.
“But when I factored it in with the health insurance being provided, I was probably making around $20K, which was worth it for me,” she says.
And as the mom of a high school freshman, the schedule was ideal. Cobb began her morning routes around 6:30 a.m. and finished by 9 a.m. Even if she had a full-time job, the schedule would have worked.
She went home for the afternoon and did her own thing, then hopped back in for the afternoon route around 2 p.m., which ran until about 4:30 p.m.
Plus, she never worked weekends, had school holidays off and enjoyed a long summer.
“I will say, for someone who is a stay-at-home parent or has a flexible work schedule, it’s a good job,” Cobb says.
What’s It Actually Like To Be a School Bus Driver?
Each day, Ms. Terry (as the kids called her) slid into the bus driver’s seat and delivered 20 to 30 elementary-, middle- and high-school students to and from school.
In the morning, the drive was OK because everybody was sleepy. But the afternoon was a different story. There tended to be more kids, and they were hot and sweaty and irritable, Cobb says.
“I’m good at disciplining, and they hated me,” Cobb says with a laugh. “You have a big rearview mirror, so you have to watch them like a hawk.”
She says kids wandering around the bus posed her biggest challenge. “There were no seatbelts, which is crazy,” she explains.
To handle the little ones, Cobb assigned them seats — girl, boy, girl, boy. If a child’s behavior became really bad, she’d chat with the parents or pull the principal into the matter.
The older kids… well, they were a different story.
“If you want to know who the meanest creature is on the planet, it’s middle-school girls,” Cobb says. “They peak in about seventh grade,”
When worse came to worst, Cobb never hesitated to pull the bus over, put on the parking brake, get up and announce, “We’re not going anywhere until you can learn to behave.”
Sometimes she flew into a lecture that went something like, “This is a bus, not a limo, which means everybody gets to ride it, and we all have to be civil. If you can’t do that, then you need to get your parents to rent you a limo.”
And a pro tip from the now-retired school bus driver? Arm yourself with the essentials: Lysol, paper towels and wipes.
In the summer, Cobb packed wipes in the cooler and handed them to the little ones as they got on the bus — something cool (and clean). In the winter when kids were always sick, she kept Lysol close by.
“You should be able to Lysol the kids when they get on,” she jokes.
For herself, she packed frozen kitchen towels in a cooler to wrap around her neck in the summer months. “It was an oven in there,” she says.
She loved driving the bus, though — as long as it wasn’t raining.
“The brakes weren’t the best, but it had great mirrors, you sat up high, and you could see everything,” Cobb says. “If I could drive the bus without kids, it’d be great fun.”
Cobb continued to drive her bus for four years — until her daughter graduated high school. At that point, her husband reached the age for Medicare, and her daughter was off to Auburn University, a school close enough for her to visit.
“I just knew I wasn’t going to want to stick to that strict schedule,” she says. You can’t really miss a shift as a school bus driver — the kids have to get to school.
How to Become a School Bus Driver
First off, have the right personality. You need to be able to discipline and handle a busload of antsy — and sassy — children.
You’ll also have to get your commercial driver’s license (CDL). Cobb’s school offered the training, so she didn’t have to pay a cent. Parallel park a school bus? Check.
Cobb also had to go through safety training, practice evacuations and learn protocols in case of an accident.
“You even had to be able to open the engine and tell somebody all the different parts… Why? I have no idea,” Cobb says. There was ongoing training each year.
But in the end, Cobb says, the job was worth it. She had extra income on a flexible schedule and, most importantly — health insurance.
Your Turn: Would you ever drive a school bus?
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing graduate school, she focuses on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents. At 18, she dropped out of her elementary education major, so she’s not sure she could handle being a bus driver.