This past winter, as our hospitals began to buckle under the strain of COVID, Gov. Janet Mills took a bold step and activated the National Guard to help.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at

Guard members were deployed to hospitals across the state, temporarily taking over nonmedical duties to allow medical staff to focus their efforts, ensuring that communities continued to receive essential emergency and medical care.

It was an innovative way to meet the crisis of our time, and I’d like to suggest a second act: schools.

Schools have been under extreme pressure and strain for years, but as with the health care system, COVID has made things temporarily untenable.

When a teacher has to stay home because they or their family are sick, it’s more than just a missed day. The students will be there as usual and someone else has to take over. But here’s the thing: There’s no one to do it.

Schools everywhere are desperate for substitute teachers.


I freely admit that being a sub is not easy. I’ve done it. You are being asked to take on a leadership role with members of a group who know each other really well and have a way better sense of what’s going on than you do. It’s hard to be in charge when you have to ask the students what happens next.

If you’re like me, then you might also have sweat-inducing flashbacks to subs of your own youth. What impish little monsters we were.

However, it is an important job. Without a substitute teacher, the vacancy must be filled by someone else in the school. There are no “extras” in a school, so this means other classwork gets set aside, specials get canceled and services are paused.

There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of school, both for the sake of routine and academic advancement, and a lot of impassioned speeches have been made about how essential it is for schools to stay open even as this current wave of COVID sees case numbers rising. For the record, I agree.

In order to keep faith with those sentiments, however, we need to bring in support. Immediately.

In a perfect world, we’d see a new legion of community members signing on to substitute teach the old-fashioned way. After all, it has a lot to recommend it. The work is interesting, the work is valued, and not that it’s about the money, but these days the money is pretty good. In the Brunswick district, for example, the rate for a short-term sub is $150 a day.


With no sign of traditional subs on the horizon, I wonder what would happen if Mills used the same strategy that served our hospitals so well and called up the Guard?

I know it seems strange to think about the National Guard coming into schools, but if we look to the model and the methodology that brought them into hospitals, it actually seems kind of fantastic. It was a perfect example of mobilizing a group of talented, dedicated people with specific skill sets to meet the needs of an unfolding disaster, and I can imagine it working really well.

Schools are in dire need of classroom teachers, ed techs, bus drivers and support staff. Heck, even one person devoted to recess duty so a  teacher working double duty can have a moment to prepare lessons and regroup! That would be amazing.

We know how vital our schools are. Let’s ensure we finish this school year strong by pulling in resources for the teachers and staff.

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