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Arkansas educator stepping in as schools see staff shortage due to COVID

At some Arkansas schools, they're missing both teachers and subs to fill in. But one instructor is stepping in to help out.

MAUMELLE, Ark — There's a lot that teachers have had to work through during the pandemic, from COVID-19 to a shortage in substitutes, it feels as if they can't catch a break.

At Maumelle Middle School, they're feeling both of those – a teacher that's out of the classroom and no available sub to replace them. 

But, there's one instructor that's stepping in to help out, even though it's not his normal job.

"My role, once again, is to work with the teachers to make sure that they have the resources that they need to provide adequate education to our students," Mark Essex Smith, a math coach at Maumelle Middle School, said.

His role normally keeps him behind the scenes, but being a teacher is all about adapting – even for roles you don't normally do.

"So I just naturally jumped into the role that I've been trained for, for the last 20 years, to start teaching and assisting the kids with math," Smith said.

Shifting away from his normal role as math coach and stepping in as a math instructor, Smith got in front of the whiteboard and started teaching.

Principal Preston Echols was confused at first, but said he was thrilled once he realized what was happening.

"When you walk in and you see that, that is a big shoutout for our teachers," Echols said. "Mr. Smith's going in. I love it. I'm excited. I'm excited for our kids, so I'm excited for him and you can see his passion."

Of course, there have been critiques of this online.

Some have asked on social media, 'why amplify something that came from such a negative situation?'

Echols said he gets it – and those critiques are fair.

"Most definitely, I understand that piece. But, at the end of the day our students were educated and they were educated by someone who has a math degree and can make sure they understand by the time they get ready to leave class," Echols said.

It might be different to see Smith teaching, but it comes with the job.

"We love kids. That is the true message. We love kids and it doesn't matter what we need to do, we're going to do it every day to make sure they're successful," Echols said. "They get what they need, they're educated, and that we can get them back to their parents safely."

That's a promise they intend to keep, even if the lesson comes from someone who isn't normally in front of the whiteboard anymore.

"A true educator wants to educate," Smith said. "Wants to make sure that our students receive the best quality education possible."