In the spirit of recent spikes and waves in coronavirus cases, readers of this column might recall that during the school year, I offer services as a substitute teacher in a handful of local school systems. From the first day I stepped foot into a Kalkaska middle school Social Studies class this gig has been three things: It has been challenging, interesting, and entertaining. If you know me, then you know those are three lanes that I love to occupy.

Whenever it comes up that “subbing” is my new gig, people ask a couple of questions.

First, they will ask, “what grades do you do?”

After I tell them middle school and high school, they ask “why?”

It’s not necessarily just a “why those grades?” question, it’s more of a “why do you substitute teach?” question.

Here is the short answer. It fits.

Subs get the summer off, they work when they want, and they work where they want. Further, subs show up at the beginning of the day and leave at the end of the last class which is typically around 3 p.m. In the event of an emergency, nobody ever calls the sub. Subs don’t grade papers, issue grades or call anyone’s parents. I don’t know about any other subs, but a normal day for me includes taking attendance, administering the real teachers “sub plans,” and then working hard to maintain a little order and do my best to keep kids on task.

It’s definitely not for everybody, but like I said, it fits me fine.

This year is my third school year doing this. Considering that last school year was protracted after mid March and this year has been operated in a constant dance with seen and unseen partners, here is hoping that “education” returns as the priority of what schools do.

But now, the challenging, interesting, and entertaining lanes have been joined by a fourth lane — dangerous.

The schools that I substitute in have all been very diligent in their sanitizing. From a very, very limited public health administrators point of view, our local public schools have put up a stout defense. The teachers, administrators, staffs and, of course, the students have been as resilient and accommodating as anyone has a right to expect. But apparently it hasn’t been enough. As most expected, the coronavirus penetrated everywhere. Including schools.

I joke when I say that. Assuming schools could remain sterile was a fool’s assumption from the get-go.

Which is why, as you can imagine, they are now dangerous.

Applying my own personal “Swiss Cheese” defense; the combination of wearing a face mask, keeping social distance from students, and habitually washing or sanitizing my hands, had given me a sense of security. Even in the wake of daily exposure announcements and the fact that some of the teachers being subbed for were home on COVID quarantine, I’ve never felt in danger. But on a recent cold mid November morning, my son and daughter in law asked me to have a chat.

They were concerned.

They saw what I had looked past; that while being challenged, interested and entertained, I was putting myself in danger. It’s one thing to come to a realization by yourself. It’s quite another for family members to point it out. After a pause, I assured them that the state’s new lockdowns would be keeping me home for the next few weeks.

Hopefully, we all will begin to work together to solve this mess, and that spikes and waves might someday again describe hairstyles, not pandemics.

Contact Rob Ford at

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