Masks On or Off?

Educators First and Foremost — With Masks On or Off

I remember, just three short months ago, my colleague, Dr. Maribeth Edmunds and I, were brainstorming all that could be done with the abundance of cloth masks worn to school day after day during the COVID pandemic. We imagined a quilt much like The NAMES Project AIDS Memoria†rl Quilt made so many years ago. We were almost giddy as we were lulled into thinking masks were a thing of the past. 

Today, face mask wars are in full force as departments of education and legislative branches from state to state decide, with great urgency, whether to mandate masks in school, as the new COVID Delta variant attacks our children in record numbers. 

The divide among legislators, public health officials, educators, and parents are being seen in courtrooms, town halls, classrooms, and school buildings. There has been little as polarizing in recent months. In The Atlantic, Kelly Carothers, mother of twin 5-year olds in Florida, worries, “The kids are sitting ducks,” while irate parents in Franklin, Tennessee, shout “We will not comply” to a mask mandate. 

While contention and disruption brews, “I am an educator,” rings in my ears and causes me to stand tall, with pride. I, and my fellow educators, make a profound difference in children’s lives. We are essential to their upbringing, their development as whole people, and their sense of responsibility as citizens of this great nation. Children need us now, more than ever, to be their champions, their mentors, their arbiters of data and facts as they grapple with fear, anxiety, and loss.  

The new variant of the COVID virus, and the looming danger surrounding children can be overwhelming. Add to this the tension among adults debating masks and vaccines. Children are being asked to live beyond their years. They are losing so much more than adults, as they lose their childhood. We can, as educators, return to them opportunities to wonder, play, make friends, and learn. Isn’t this the promise we made when we accepted the monumental responsibility of teaching children?

Look beyond the rancorous noise and capture the hearts and minds of your students. Smile and they will smile back. Wearing a mask? Do this with your eyes, your voice, and your body. Do it with what you offer in the classroom. Speaking of classrooms, remember the term does not dictate four walls and a door. Take children outside in the fresh air where they can remove their masks, breathe deeply, and take in the wonders of nature while they read, write, calculate, and express their wonderings and knowledge. Be creative in your development of curriculum, imagine ways to teach history, science, and math using wide-open spaces and found materials. 

Worried about managing children outdoors? Spend less money on the purchase of standardized tests and study materials and reallocate the funds. Hire aides, nature guides, and Paraprofessionals. Join forces with your colleagues and teach in mixed-aged groups where older children help those younger than them. Expand your ability to manage children with a co-teacher at your shoulder. Team-teach with a respect for your colleague’s schema and approach to educating. You may find this refreshing and inspiring. 

If not now then when? When will we, educators, remind the world of our importance, impact, and contribution to society? When will we stand up for the children we know to be powerful, resourceful, and competent? When will we stand for their right to evolve through all of childhood’s milestones and luscious moments? Now is the time to embrace children, to offer them our very best selves. We are first and foremost, EDUCATORS regardless of if we have masks on or off.