When we went back to school for the 20-21 school year, we required students and staff to wear masks all the time. It’s funny to think about some people’s resistance to wearing the masks, because it felt constricting, and you couldn’t see the expressions behind the mask.
I would argue that we were wearing masks far before COVID came along. We, especially educators, wore (and still wear) the mask that says, ‘I can do it all, everything, and I am perfect.’
When was the last time you shared with your students that the lesson they were doing in class was something you spent hours creating? When was the last time you let your students see you fail? It took me 16 years of perfectionism in my classroom to realize it might actually benefit my students to be more transparent.
Batsheva Frankel and Aviva Levin recently shared a conversation on the podcast Overthrowing Education about this very topic. So many of the things they spoke about in terms of being transparent, and sharing what we do behind the scenes, is crucial for all students to know.
In terms of mask wearing, I want to share something about “wearing a mask” as a teacher. In doing so, we don’t give our students permission to take off their own masks. If I am not willing to be vulnerable, then neither will my students. I cannot begin to know what my students are masking everyday when they come into my classroom. I don’t want my classroom to be a place where students need to keep their masks on, so how can I help? Here are my ideas, and I hope they generate some ideas of your own that you are willing to share with me, and others!
I want to continue to engage in the ACTUAL mask breaks we did this year. That can present a challenge when I think about going back to the shorter class times, but I need to ask myself what my goal really should be: content or character. I see my content as a vehicle to connect and support character building.
I want to be vulnerable with my students, I want them to know I too wear a mask, and that taking my mask off with them is vulnerable for me, but is also so important. This is going to be different for every one of us, but like Aviva shared in her interview, if something happened before I got to school, I can tell my students just that, and let them know if I react in an unusual way, it is likely because I came in with some baggage today. As I write this, I think about how that simple gesture gives my students permission to share that they too might have some extra baggage on a certain day, and maybe tell me if they react in a way that might not necessarily be directed to me.
I want to share that when we are hurting, we often hurt those who love us the most. I have seen this so clearly this year with COVID. When my children were hurting about the loss of social interactions at school or in the community, they took it out on each other and us, because they know they will be forgiven, and we will still love them. But it takes a toll, and wears us down. How might the students be doing things like that with their best friends or close friends?
I will share some of my own struggles. Not to make them feel bad for me, but to make myself “real” to my students. I have diabetes, and this is an opportunity to share with my students that I struggle daily with being healthy. I am sure you have something that you could share to help connect with your students.
I would love for you to share some ideas you have on how you might:
Take your own mask off
Help your students feel comfortable taking their masks off too
Comment or share this with other educators who might be interested, or have ideas! Let’s make this school year the best in building relationships with our students!