BROOKINGS (BJ) — With Coronavirus infection numbers getting higher than James Harden in a strip club, many teachers across the country have been rendered unavailable to teach. School districts around the country have been aggressively recruiting substitute or short-term teachers to keep schools running.
In a turn of fate, school districts in the Dakotas are looking to high school students to fill in the gaps for middle school classes.
“Who better to teach these 7th and 8th graders vital educational materials other than the students who have just been taught the same materials a couple years ago!” said Dr. Ken Jacobs, principle at 230-student Mickelson Middle School in Brookings, South Dakota.
With sports being cancelled for the Fall and Winter, and many extracurricular activities/clubs also cancelled or completely remote, many high school students have been looking for ways to be more involved in the community. This includes Dr. Jacob’s own son, 16-year old Herbert Jacobs, who is a 10th grader at Brookings High School.
“Yeah bro like I was supposed to be doing cross-country but cuz of ‘rona they said I can’t do that. I guess all the old people are dying so I might as well teach geography to some middle school dweebs, whatever.”
The usual pools of substitute or emergency teachers have not been available because of the pandemic. Retirees have sited health concerns and general hatred of technology as reasons not to come back to school. Many recent college grads have not been available due to travel restrictions and the fear of their Instagrams being judged by middle school students.
In neighboring North Dakota, Governor Doug Burgum has made appeals to high school students to forgo their SAT prep to make sure the middle schools can stay open. The Governor has tried to speak to their sense of duty to their communities, while also being blunt to the current situation.
“Look right now you [high school students] are on a gap year. This academic year doesn’t matter. But you are old enough to make up for this year. The middle school students are still young they need the education right now! You can go Brown or USC in 2022 or something. The SATs aren’t going anywhere.”
Katlyn Arikara, a 17-year old Senior and member of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, is working as a substitute teacher in the Minot, North Dakota School District, where her younger brother is a middle school student. She said she really wanted to focus on the SATs, her grades, and being the first person in her family to go to a four-year higher education institution, but she understands that sacrifices need to be made now.
“Right now it’s not about me. It’s about making sure that kids like my brother can get the education they deserve. It sucks that people won’t wear masks or stay inside or follow basic global pandemic-suppression guidelines, but that’s North Dakota I guess!”
Some middle school parents have expressed caution and skepticism of having active high school students replace teachers. However, Tiffany Sanderson, South Dakota Secretary of Education, has expressed that this is a perfectly good workaround and could help the state in the future.
“Wise people say that ‘children are our future’ and I say the future is now! The pandemic has taught us that a 10th grade education is more than good enough to be an effective educator. If we keep this program running, that will save us two years of further education costs. Plus, high school students are happy being paid minimum wage. That’s a win-win!”
In neighboring Montana, Elsie Arntzen, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, has been piloting a new program that goes even further than the Dakotas: middle school students teaching elementary school students.
“Montana is a small state (less than 1.1 million people) population wise, but a huge land area. When teachers get COVID-19 infections or have to call out sick, we are really stretched thin. But this program could give us thousands of new tiny teachers. ABCs, multiplications, and basic social science is really easy! We think these middle school students have what it takes — patience, kindness, and organizational skills — to be a great elementary school teachers!”
It seems that in the end, student teachers may become the country’s biggest unexpected gift of the pandemic.