I'm a teacher. The end of mask mandates is freeing, but after 2 years of complications I'm not ready to completely ditch my mask.
- Skyler Gausney-Jones, 26, is a second grade
teacherin New York City.
- The end of the school mask mandate has made many
studentsmore excited and engaged, she says.
One afternoon in mid-March 2020, I left my classroom with a vague knowledge that some kind of "cough" was going around. Classroom materials remained where they were, and I sent off my second graders with a "See ya later alligator." Little did I know, I wouldn't see them for the rest of the year, and that when we did finally see each other again, it would be behind masks and plastic desk shields.
Initially, the idea of working from home sounded like an answered prayer
I was excited to wake up 20 minutes later and avoid a stressful morning commute. But by week two of
The pressure to make sure my 32 kids were learning and engaged for hours at a time was taking a toll on my body, both physically and mentally.
Not only was I teaching, but I was also planning lessons, working through technology issues with families, and navigating tough conversations about the political climate and COVID-19.
I felt lethargic and had raging headaches at the end of the day. I would try to clear my mind, but the stress of thinking about how I had to do it all over again the next day would linger through the night.
In July 2020, I switched
I continued teaching remotely at a new school that fall, and was one of the teachers asked to return to the building when we shifted to a hybrid model in March 2021. There, I taught approximately 15 first-graders who opted to return to school, while my co-teacher remained remote and taught the other half of our class virtually.
I was glad to see students in-person, but adapting to these changes on a daily basis was anxiety-inducing
As teachers, we had to diligently follow safety protocols, including strict mask rules, and make sure our elementary-age students did the same. This was not an easy task, as some students had trouble keeping their masks on and staying socially distanced from their friends.
In August 2021, all hybrid and remote students and educators returned to the building. Masks were still required, and although COVID-19 tests were administered weekly, there were still breakout cases. It was inevitable.
Fortunately, learning prevailed and the school was running pretty smoothly. Students were overjoyed to be with one another and ready to experience a small taste of their former lives.
On March 7, 2022 the mask mandate was lifted across New York City schools
After being protected from the residue of sneezes and wet coughs for so long, the hesitancy to take off my N95 mask was real.
With each passing week, more students took off their masks. For some, the end of the mandate was an opportunity to form stronger relationships with their teachers and peers, and their personalities began to blossom. Others continued to be cautious by strictly socializing with peers who also wore masks, carrying hand sanitizer clipped to their backpacks, and only removing masks during lunch.
Since masks have come off, there haven't been too many new COVID-19 cases in my class, but students have gotten sick with colds and fevers. We no longer offer a
As a teacher, the lift of the mask mandate has been a double-edged sword
Teaching maskless is freeing. Although I don't do it often, I sometimes remove my mask during literacy and phonics instruction to allow students to see my mouth movements and hear my voice, which helps their pronunciation. I also find my mask sitting below my chin when I'm really excited about a lesson or getting pumped up for a math test. I love to see students feed off of my energy.
But knowing how quickly and often kids spread germs is still stressful. I got COVID-19 last December from an outbreak at school that infected more than half of the staff, so I still find myself keeping a distance with my students and coworkers and pulling my mask up when I'm approached. It's just become a habit.
At this point, I've accepted this new sense of normalcy — masks, no masks, no masks until an outbreak, masks again, and everything in between. If cases remain low, our schools may stay mask-free, but I'm also cautious of potential outbreaks once the winter months return and flu season kicks in. It will definitely be a while before I feel comfortable retiring my mask completely, regardless of the lack of a mandate.
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