LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The governor of New Mexico started work on Wednesday as a substitute teacher, replacing one of the thousands of educators across the United States (US) who have been forced off work by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michelle Lujan Grisham – a lawyer by training – swapped the governor’s mansion for the classroom as part of the ‘Supporting Teachers and Families’ initiative designed to plug holes in staffing in schools and childcare across the state.
“It was maybe one of the best days in my entire career,” Grisham said after the final school bell had rung.
“It was easier than managing the cabinet,” she quipped, but “it was more complicated than I was expecting.”
Last week, Grisham issued a plea for state workers and National Guard troops to sign up as licensed substitute teachers and child care workers.
“Our schools are a critical source of stability for our children, we know they learn best in the classroom and thrive by being among their peers,” the governor said in a statement announcing the programme.
The US is facing an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 infections, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Nearly five million new cases were logged last week, with New Mexico among hard-hit states.
Almost half of the southwestern state’s school districts were forced to return to online classes in recent weeks, with teachers and faculty members having to isolate after being infected or being a close contact of a COVID-positive person.
Candidates for the substitute teacher programme need to have a high school diploma and to pass a background check. No formal teaching qualifications or experience are necessary.
The US has the highest number of COVID-19 infections of any country, and is lagging behind other wealthy nations in its drive to innoculate the population due to widespread vaccine hesitancy.