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People Who Zum: Mike Ankton

Teaching Kids Respect on the Route

We’re celebrating #PeopleWhoZum with Mike Ankton, who until recently, held the title of Youngest Bus Driver in Arkansas. Mike currently balances his schedule majoring in Social Science Education at Henderson State University with his bus routes. For him, driving is an opportunity to teach the next generation about respecting each other. He’s not a Zum employee, yet he very much embodies our values.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Inspiring young bus drivers

I was the youngest bus driver in the state of Arkansas for the 2020/2021 school year. But I don’t have that title anymore. When I became the youngest bus driver, THV11 did a news story on me and after that I had a lot of young people contact me because they were also interested in becoming bus drivers. And a few of them did follow up and become bus drivers. I know one who probably has that title right now. We just did an interview together last week for the National Transportation Magazine. So technically he is the reigning youngest bus driver, but who knows? Next year he might be pushed out like I was.

Good morning 

The way I connect with kids on the bus is when I pick them up in the morning, I say, “Good morning,” to every last one of them. Even the ones typically that don’t want to say anything back— I start their day off with a good morning. 

When they get back on the bus for the afternoon route and I’m dropping them off at home, I tell them I’ll see them tomorrow. 

I try to pick up things and notice each student individually. I always go out of my way to help my students, whether that’s parking the bus and walking to the school and having a chat with a teacher or principal or the transportation director about them. When I see students I let them know, “You’re doing great… I heard that you didn’t do so well on this test, but you’ll do great on it next time.” 

I wish school buses were more…

Comfortable. Not only for the students, but for the drivers. I know students have trouble sitting in those seats and a lot of them might take naps. They might want to do homework. I just wish they were more comfortable. 

You’ve heard about the white coat syndrome — you go to a doctor’s office and you’re already uncomfortable because you see the doctor’s office and you think, “Doctor’s office.” So maybe a bus’ interior could be more bright and vibrant. Something that’s just more inviting and fun.

Driven to teach

I became a bus driver because I’m a social science education major. Down in the south, most history teachers have a (sports) coaching endorsement. I don’t have a coaching endorsement and I didn’t have a desire to get one because I wasn’t as passionate about sports as other people are. I’m more passionate about teaching. I knew that it would be harder to get a job not having that coaching endorsement in teaching history. I thought, “What’s another way to make myself more marketable for school? What makes me stand out compared to other 1st year education majors without a coaching endorsement?”

I reached out to my former high school teacher and told them I just wanted to get a CDL (Commercial Drivers License). I got my training and I passed my permit and passed my driving test and they hired me for a half route. 

Respect the route

Sometimes they’ll ask me questions about their homework on the way home, “Mr. Michael, what is the freezing point of water?” They had just had a discussion on that and too many of them were wrong, so I helped them.

I always say, “I’m interested in who you are as a person. I don’t just see you as another student. I know your name. I know where you go to school, your grade, your extracurriculars, where you live. I care about you as a person.”

There’s a talk I have on the bus with kids— “You respect me. I respect you. I expect the same treatment.” And I believe the students started to practice that amongst themselves.

From classroom to bus

Some of the things I have learned in the classroom help on the bus because the bus really is another classroom. But the dynamic is different because when you are in a classroom, you have the power to stand up and walk around and monitor students. When I’m driving a bus that’s filled from the front row all the way to the back row the most important thing is driving. So it’s very hard. I believe that one of the reasons why people quit being a bus driver is because of the discipline that you have to endure on the bus. There’s a lot going on— distractions from the top mirror and distractions on the road.

I think some of the things I’ve learned in classes— how to talk to students about making them feel heard, not talking down on them, not invalidating their feelings, not, “I’m the adult, you’re the child. So you just listen to me,” work on my bus. 

On driver training

The training to be a bus driver was how to drive a bus, not, “Here’s your bus and kids.” So a lot of bus drivers have to learn that on the fly. I believe that’s why some lose interest in driving. Because nobody pulled them to the side and explained, “Hey, this would be a good strategy for you to connect with your kids. This would be a good strategy to minimize problems on your bus when you’re driving.” 

I think if school districts would take the time to individually train their bus drivers every year and say, “Hey, this is how you could talk to your students. If you would, try to say good morning to all your students when they get on the bus. Say have a good day or see you tomorrow when they get off. And when you have a problem with your student, rather than writing them up, talk to them first. It’ll add a minute to your route, but if you just get the opportunity to ask, ‘Why are you doing that? What’s going on?'” I think that would really help.

You’re not just driving a truck, you’re driving the world’s most precious cargo. 

Thanks Mike for participating in our #PeopleWhoZum series. Your enthusiasm as a bus driver and future educator are making a huge impact.  

About #PeopleWhoZum

#PeopleWhoZum is a celebration of the unique people who are driving change in the student transportation industry. A spotlight view of those who believe, as we do, rides to and from school impact the way children learn, grow, relate, and excel. We’ll be featuring individuals who embody our values and sharing their personal stories and perspectives. Please check back weekly for great stories starting next week. 

Do you know someone in the industry who would be a great addition to #PeopleWhoZum? If so, we’d love to talk to you. You can contact us at social@ridezum.com.

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