It may not seem like much, but a lot can happen during a 20-minute school bus ride.

That’s why Cassandra White, assistant supervisor for Brevard Public Schools, is teaching a seminar to school bus drivers on how to manage disruptive behavior on school buses at the upcoming Florida Association for Pupil Transportation (FAPT) conference this year. According to White, middle-school students are usually the ones causing the most trouble on the bus, as they have to deal with so many changes – physically, emotionally and socially. As a result, the approaches with which to manage their disruptive behavior have to be strategic.

“The biggest problem we have to deal with is fighting,” White says. “Everything in a fight is a retaliation – they’re coming back smart, trying to prove their point.”

White recommends for bus drivers to reason with the student, not to argue with them.

“Separate them from the other children on the bus. Hold them back,” White instructs. She suggests that, rather than yell at the child, the bus driver say something along the lines of, “I set you aside because you and I need to come to an understanding.”

“Ultimately, the way we talk to the children is what we get back from them,” White says. “If we act like a drill sergeant, we’re not going to get what we want.”

The absolute last resorts to take are writing them up and suspending them. Instead, White recommends setting up a conference with a teacher, parent or guidance counselor to get to the root of the issue.

“Try not to give them a paper trail. Instead, set them up with a disciplinary or corrective action plan,” White says.

During the 20 minutes that the children are on the bus, drivers should take some of that time to listen to and learn about them.

“You never know what’s going on in a 13-year-old’s world,” White says. “Imagine going through life where the teachers pick on you, your peers bully you and then the bus driver yells at you when you’re misbehaving.”

The bus driver can be the one person to check in on a student and ask if they’re OK – and that can make a huge difference. White recommends drivers pull the students aside and offer a listening ear for a few minutes.

“Bus drivers need to get involved. Sometimes we have to be a guidance counselor, a teacher, a dean, a parent – we’re all of it. We need to step into those roles. We need to take it more seriously and be more responsible about it instead of being confrontational.”