Members of the National Guard are being called up to serve as substitute teachers in New Mexico schools to keep schools open amid COVID-19.
According to NPR, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham asked the National Guard and other state employees to volunteer in an effort to keep schools afloat as a teacher shortage plagues the state during the pandemic. Most of these National Guard members have no teaching experience and were assigned to a few hours of training and a background check before entering the classroom.
For Specialist Austin Alt, he volunteered to work as a substitute teacher after seeing how much his younger brothers struggled with online learning. He said he didn't feel fully prepared for his first day of teaching band class, but said the students were welcoming and didn't mind having a soldier teach class if it means schools will remain open.
"I was anxious. I didn't know what to expect. (The students were) welcoming me in and very respectful and such as well. They showed me a lot about learning music. It was a learning experience on both ends," he told NPR.
Keeping schools open in New Mexico is a priority to maintain stability in kids' lives, according to Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus. He said inviting the National Guard into classrooms was a "crisis measure" but is worth it. "Some kids, family is not stable, but school is stable. There's a person they can depend on. There's food. And in many of our schools, it's breakfast and lunch."
While Alt enjoys working as a substitute teacher at Pojoaque Valley Middle School in northern New Mexico, some parents and teachers don't agree with the measure.
Jennifer Barnwell, a teacher in Carrizozo, told NPR the idea was a "nice gesture, but I think it's completely impractical." She added the volunteer substitutes should "know how to run a classroom effectively." Xiuhtecutli Soto, an activist with the New Mexico Youth Justice Coalition, said the initiative "may be detrimental to the youth due to the fact it can be used as a method to militarize and police young people further."