- We are not getting the full picture when we see our students with masks on.
- Take time to get to know your students and who they are behind the masks.
- Check-in with your students not just on an academic level, but on a social-emotional one as well.
I consider myself lucky that I’ve been able to be in-person with my students 5 half days a week since September. Of course, we are taking precautions, like socially distanced desks, plexiglass, hand sanitizer, temperature checks, and of course…the masks. While everything has been an adjustment, including teaching practices, probably the hardest thing to adjust to has been the masks—and not for the reasons you might think. Can they get itchy and annoying? Of course. Is it hard to hear the students when they speak? Absolutely. Do I get very thirsty if I talk too much while wearing one? Most definitely. But that’s not what bothers me the most.
The Big Cover-up
Pre-COVID, it never dawned on me how much of one’s personality and thoughts are revealed through their facial expressions. I used to pride myself on being able to “read a room.” However, now when I look out into my classroom, I only notice a sea of eyeballs, all of which appear to just be staring at me.
I can’t tell if they’re happy, sad, confused, anxious, bored…you name it. Yes, sometimes you are able to tell what the students are thinking through their eyes, but it’s really the whole face that paints the true picture.
This is why I like our outdoor mask breaks so much. Just being able to see my kids’ faces for 5 minutes and watch them interact with their friends tells me so much more about them.
I believe masks are safe and necessary right now for both teachers and students. But for however long we will have to wear them, it’s important to find ways to get to know your students on a more personal level. Click To Tweet
Favorite Part of My Day
After our in-person half-day ends, we continue working during Extending Learning time at home in the afternoon. This has become my favorite part of the day! Why? Because it allows me to work with students one-on-one or in small groups—or sometimes one big group—with no masks required. Is it hard because we are doing it via Google Meet and not in person? A little. But so much more of their personalities are revealed during this time. And in turn, they get to see so much more of mine. We laugh, we joke, we chat about non-school related topics. It’s been a great way to build relationships.
Voice and Choice
Giving students the opportunity to express themselves and their learning in different ways was gaining momentum before the pandemic. However, now more than ever, this is a critical component every teacher should be incorporating. I have found that many of my students who tend to be quiet and shy in the classroom, are in fact quite the opposite if given the opportunity to express themselves in a video or picture, or even through a drawing. Again, I think the masks rob many more kids of the desire to truly express themselves. But give them Flipgrid or Seesaw and watch how quickly they come out of their shells.[scroll down to keep reading]
Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe masks are safe and necessary right now for both teachers and students. But for however long we will have to wear them, it’s important to find ways to get to know your students on a more personal level. It’s also important to check-in with them and see how they are doing, not just on an academic level, but on a social-emotional one as well. We are not getting the full picture, so take time to get to know the individuals behind the masks. You’ll be glad you did.
ABOUT BECKY THAL
Becky Thal is a 5th grade math and science teacher in New Jersey and a Data Analyst for the Teach Better Team. Prior to starting her career in teaching in 2005, Becky worked for several years in advertising in New York City. She is an active member of her school staff, currently serving on several committees including SEL, Climate and Culture, and the Future Ready Team. Becky is also an active member of her community and her children’s schools. In her spare time, she enjoys trips to the beach, trying new restaurants, and attending her kids’ various games and events. Becky lives with her husband, three children and dog, Cliff, who she loves spending time with on the weekends.