National Guard deployed for a new emergency: Teachers shortages
ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (AP) -- On past deployments Army National Guard Spc. Michael Stockwell was responsible for monitoring a section of the U.S. Mexico border that was inaccessible during a surge of migrants. He also supervised a network of checkpoints around New Mexico's Capitol following the January 2021 rebellion in Washington.
Stockwell is currently on a mission to help students as a substitute science teacher at Alamogordo high school.
These kids are not Army. These children are not the same as soldiers. You cannot speak with them the same way. They can't be treated the same. He laughed and said, "You have to be careful when taking corrective actions."
Numerous National Guard Army and Air Force soldiers in New Mexico have been responding to an emergency that is unlike any other: the shortage in teachers and school staff members, which has tested schools' ability to operate during the coronavirus-driven surges. While many states and school districts have issued pleas for substitute teachers, New Mexico has been the only state to call out its National Guard members. Stockwell, who was wearing combat boots and camouflage fatigues, walked into freshman science class in New Mexico. Some students assumed he was just passing by to recruit. Stockwell sat down in the chair of the teacher.
Lilli Terrazas (15) of Alamogordo said that when he began taking attendance, I was nervous. "I was nervous because I saw a man wearing a uniform. It was cool. He was a great help."
Around 80 veterans have offered to teach in schools. They have been through background checks and completed short courses to become substitute teachers. They are not required to know much about curriculum but must be attentive to students.
Stockwell has been helping out since January, when the teacher at his school moved to an administrative position. Stockwell shuffled among the school desk rows, kneeling to greet students as he assisted them with their assignments that calculated the depth of the earth’s crust and other layers.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (Democrat) called on the guard to assist with the severe shortages in a state like many others that has struggled to find enough teachers. There were at least 100 schools that reported closing for less than one day during the school year. New Mexico has around 1,000 teaching positions, compared to the state's 20,000. Grisham said that the deployment of guards is temporary and that state officials are trying to strengthen the teaching staff and the teaching force through higher pay and other strategies.
Alamogordo High School's teacher shortage reached its peak on Jan. 13, when 30% of the teachers were absent due to illness, professional training or family emergencies.
Raeh Burns, one the two Alamogordo High School secretaries, said that everyone was enjoying their vacation and other things, but then they returned to get sick." She is responsible for filling all teaching slots. "I know that I will have Mr. Stockwell every day and that he is OK to go wherever I need him to."
Concerns have been raised in some communities about soldiers entering classrooms. Santa Fe school district spokesperson Cody Dynarski stated that soldiers could wear uniforms and have guns. Guns were never an option. The district decided that soldiers should wear civilian clothing.
Albuquerque and Santa Fe, two of the largest urban school district, didn't receive any soldiers, despite their requests. This is because the deployments prioritize smaller, more rural school districts.
Some soldiers prefer military fatigues to civilian clothing when they have the option, especially if they are younger than their students.
Cassandra Sierra (22), Roswell, N.M. said, "I think that I look like an 18 year-old out of uniform," and she has been a substitute teacher at a Hobbs high school.
Sierra is already a student coordinator at Roswell's military boarding school. This has given her an advantage as a substitute.
She said, "Kids just require patience." "I believe I have a lot patience."
Students at a middle school located on Alamogordo’s Holloman Air Force Base are used to seeing people dressed in uniform. However, they don't see them in classrooms.
"I was like, "Oh, we have someone in the uniform that will teach us. Andrew George, 12 years old, said that it was awkward. His computer classes were led by a female combat veteran who had previously led a platoon abroad. "Once she introduced myself, I was like, 'Oh yeah! This is going to be great.'
Lt. Amanda Zollo is the substitute and works at the Albuquerque 911 dispatch center when she's not serving as a guard. As they attempted to crack each other's passwords, she kept them on track during a cybersecurity lesson.
She was assisting a teacher in need of childcare. Whitney Anderson, the principal, stated that Zollo's services had meant that she wouldn't have to assume control of a classroom for the first week.
Zollo won't speak about her role as an infantry officer to her students. She describes it as "engaging and destroying enemies of the U.S.A in close-quarter combat."
This story has been updated to clarify that the problem was at the high school and not in the whole district.