Subbing in a time of national reckoning

Harry Welty

Last Wednesday I came home from my “easy” eight-hour day as a Covid-era substitute teacher. I recovered with an hour-long nap. Teaching well behaved fourth graders took more out of me than the eight-hour days I spent sculpting 12-foot monsters out of snow.

A day later I read about a mother who came to a school board meeting threatening to use her gun if the board voted to mask children. This took place after Minnesota’s State School Board Association ended their decade’s long affiliation with the National School Board Association, like a dozen other state school boards.

Why? They quit because of Republican outage.

Some hysterical NSSB bureaucrat suggested that angry parents shouting down school boards should be investigated. Republican consistency in the Biden years is a marvel. They don’t want Jan. 6 to be investigated either.

That’s the thanks school boards get for acting prudently in the face of a contagion that has killed a million Americans. Republicans liked investigations when Obama was president. After Americans died in Libya’s civil war Republicans spent two years investigating. There were three deaths in “Benghazi.”

For the first two years of Covid I mostly hid in my home. My wife’s nephew damn-near died of Covid in the epidemic’s first month in the state of denial otherwise known as North Dakota. From the beginning hospital ICUs have spilled over with the intubated and dying, thus preventing heart and cancer patients from getting life saving treatment. The ICUs are still full of paranoid anti-vaxxers. They are 49 times more likely to be in ICUs than the fully vaccinated.

There has been a parallel crisis in our schools. Older teachers have taken early retirement lest they fall victim to infected but symptom-free students. An exhausted and depleted corps of teachers has borne the missing teachers’ work load, giving up preparation time to fill in for sick colleagues.

My daughter does this extra work in the Duluth schools, where substitute teachers are hard to come by. Those who know my daughter know her to have inexhaustible energy. She has been that way since she was a little girl. Yet last Wednesday we both missed church choir practice from sheer exhaustion.

I’ve been subbing for two months. I signed up to see how the charter schools that I helped give birth to are handling the crisis and to be near my grandsons who attend them. I’ve thought about substituting since I was cashiered from the classroom 35 years ago.

After I was elected to the school board I asked my colleagues for permission to substitute teach. I thought it would be a wonderful way to see the schools I was responsible for up close and personal. I simply had to convert my lapsed teacher’s license for substituting.

My board colleagues refused my request. They explained that the pittance I would earn was “a conflict of interest.”

When I privately told one of my distrusting colleagues that I always thought of myself as a teacher, she spat back, “You’re no teacher!”

Today’s crisis was tailor-made for me to test that appraisal.

It is selfish of me to go to these schools. My life partner has a heart valve and pacemaker, which requires antibiotics in advance of dental work. Worse, she’s allergic to most antibiotics. The last thing she needs is to have her husband face-to-face with dozens of children, some of whom fail or refuse to keep their masks up over their noses.

I’ve learned that two days a week of subbing is more than enough for this 71-year-old. I’ve learned that two days a week is my limit. I’ve learned that today’s children are just like the kids I remember from 35 years ago. Some are charming, other’s not so much.

I’ve learned that being financially able to quit at a moment’s notice offers one a sense of security. I’ve also learned that my dismissive colleague was dead wrong.

Its taken me a few weeks to get the hang of the computers used to project information on the wall. ISD 709’s Red Plan introduced this 21st century tech for a few years until most of it broke down and couldn’t be replaced because of the Red Plan debt. My daughter’s schools now find themselves back in the 20th century.

Since I was a product of last century’s education this has not be a problem for me. I’ve soaked up 70 years worth of history, science and culture so that I can spin a 20-minute lecture at the drop of a hat.
I have taken my classes to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius; to the lice- and rat-infested trenches of World War I and the Mankato Monument, boasting of the biggest mass hanging in American history. Kids are hungry to learn.

Last week Omicron sent my middle and high school students home until March 1. Given the choice of a five-week break or teaching elementary classes. I decided to stick with it. I’m needed.

Everything Harry writes that is not about the imminent destruction of Earth as we knew it is superfluous. But, he does prattle on at