The bus driver shortage has interrupted schools across the nation, prompting wage hikes.
After watching the shortage impact his own community, a former FBI agent decided to apply for the job.
He said bus drivers are "transporting the future of America," and deserve more credit for their work.
Michael Mason was number four on the FBI's food chain, overseeing the agency's criminal branch as the executive assistant director. To this day, he remains one of the most highly ranked Black special agents in the history of the FBI.
Now, he's a school bus driver for special education students - a job he says he is not "overqualified" for, as some have claimed.
"I am somebody in the community who cares about the future of this country, who cares about the future of our children," Mason told Insider. "And that's why I wanted to do this job ... we're transporting the future of America."
Mason decided to apply to become a school bus driver after seeing the national driver shortage impact his own community in Chesterfield, Virginia.
The district's "huge deficit" of school bus drivers led to delays and long pick-up and drop-off lines, burdening parents, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
In August, the shortage prompted a $3 wage hike, increasing drivers' hourly pay to $20.21, according to the report. The salary increase, along with the potential for a $3,000 bonus, has helped Chesterfield public schools receive 600 new driver applicants as of Tuesday.
As a recent retiree, Mason said he didn't become a bus driver for the money - but he said the stress of the job does not align with the salary.
"This job has truly expanded my capacity for empathy and understanding," he told Insider. "I have kids who sometimes are as placid as a beautiful lake, and sometimes are as chaotic as a storm."
He said that despite stress caused by traffic and student safety, the vast majority of bus drivers he's met reference the children they drive as their own students and are incredibly "dedicated to their craft."
"They take the job very seriously," he said. "But you know in America, we poo poo some jobs and we elevate others."
Mason added that he hopes the shortage has demonstrated how important the job of a bus driver really is.
"With some jobs, you only notice the importance of it when something fails," he told Insider. "I think the manner in which we characterize this job will help drive some people to consider it. I'm hoping maybe some retirees like me, say, 'I got more to offer.'"
Expanded Coverage Module: what-is-the-labor-shortage-and-how-long-will-it-last
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