- Caitlin von Gaertner
- Michele Gardemann
For 13 years, Michele has been the friendly smile behind the wheel of the big yellow school bus. Initially, she started driving because her family needed insurance, but never planned to be a longtimer. She loves working with kids (except after Halloween when they are on sugar overload) and has four children and five grandchildren of her own.
What is the single best thing you have learned as a bus driver?
As a bus driver, my 'job' is to get children to and from school safely. I took that VERY seriously when I first started, especially on icy roads. My personal view of my 'job' is to care about each child under my stewardship. I care about their safety in transportation, their feelings, their heartaches and fears. Sometimes it's hard to sense and express my concern for 50 children while strapped into my seat at 35 mph! But you'd be amazed at what I observe in a rearview mirror.
What do you hope children learn from you?
I hope children learn from me that they matter—each one of them. I've learned that they are all just like me, wanting to be understood and to connect with people.
What superhero power do you wish you had when working with kids?
If I had to choose my own superpower, I would want to see into each child's heart. What's in their hearts may be SO different from what they show on the outside.
How are kids today different than when you were a kid?
Kids today have a much stronger will and determination to learn by trying rather than being told what to do. As I have watched my own daughters parent their children, I see that they are teaching their children many of the same things I taught but in much more creative, hands-on ways. I am inspired as I watch today's kids look at the world with excitement.
Do you have a role model?
As cliche' as it sounds, my mother is my first choice. She always gave us kids the last bite of pie on her plate and the lemonade always tasted better from her glass. She listened to us day or night as we were struggling with life. She was the best example of a nurturer in my life. In her later years she spent a lot of time caring for elderly people. When I become an empty-nester I hope to become a hospice volunteer.
What do you think the next generation has in store for us?
I love to watch the creativity of today's kids as well as their thirst for knowledge and discovery. Science, medicine, technology—everything is advancing so fast. I can't even fathom what this generation has in store for us, but I can't wait to see!
In response to the question, "ask not what your kids can do for you but what you can do for your kids" what would you say?
Learn to say "NO!" With the intensity of the personalities I see in kids, this is important. Kids want boundaries. When that guidance is absent, kids don't know which way to go, how far to go, whom to go with, and they are overwhelmed by the choices available to them. Loving them means guiding them.