Teaching while wearing a mask is like swimming in a raincoat. Oh, and also while wearing a pair of galoshes and strapping a twenty pound dumbbell to your neck. Sounds unpleasant? Yeah, I hope you get the idea. Despite all these drawbacks, I am so happy to be back in the classroom and seeing a full room of masked students looking up at me.
I have looked up tips for teaching while wearing a mask, and I have read many articles and tried to implement what I have read, but all the advice really doesn't help that much. When I start getting annoyed at myself or angry about the situation, I remember what I went through last year and that brings me back to reality.
A year ago we were in a weird mix of streaming classes and having some students attend in person. This was before the vaccine and after things started opening up again. The first day I drove onto campus, it seemed like a ghost town. Parking, which has always been difficult, was now way too easy.
We were not allowed into our usual office space, so that meant sitting in my car and using my laptop to check email, prepare documents for class, and so on. My car would become my work space and my lunchroom, but I got used to it because I had no other choice.
Walking across a campus that was usually bustling with students, I was amazed that I saw no one. Off in the distance there was one student walking with a backpack. As I continued walking, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a few tumbleweeds blowing across the Great Lawn.
I went into the building lobby – this is a place where there was seating for students and was always crowded – and there was no one there. No one! I went to my first class, and I had six students waiting for me. There were lesser numbers of students in my other classes.
Of course, I had to teach the students at home too, so there was a little camera on the desk. This meant that I could not move away from the desk or use the whiteboard. Everything I taught had to be on the computer screen (we use Blackboard) for the students at home and projected on the big screen in the room for the in person students. I didn’t like it, but I got used to it. I was in the building and teaching, which was preferable to spring 2020 when we were all sent home in March and went fully remote.
Unfortunately, as the semester progressed my classes got smaller. Those few students who were in person requested to “go remote” for various reasons. Eventually, I was teaching in empty classrooms because everyone stayed home. When we were ready for Thanksgiving break, we were told we would not be coming back to the campus and going all remote, and that is how we stayed all through spring 2021.
I found remote teaching frustrating for many reasons, but mostly because I had no real connection with students. I mean, we did interact but it was not the same. Many students are camera shy, and others don’t like speaking on camera. I did my best, but I longed for a return to the classroom, and during the last week of August 2021 I got my wish.
Yes, speaking with a mask is difficult. Teaching with it sometimes seems impossible. At times the mask bunches up a bit, causing me to mess up words. Breathing becomes laborious at times, but I have to go over course materials, and the only way to do that is by speaking.
Still, seeing a classroom filled with students makes me happy. I think they all seem to be happy too. We are back on campus, all fully vaccinated, and wearing masks. Even though at times it is annoying wearing a mask and teaching, I wouldn’t want the alternative of going back to fully remote classes or the weird mixture of streaming and in person classes.
Yes, I’m back in the classroom teaching with a mask, and I’m getting through it as best as I can. I love being in the classroom again, and it is worth teaching while wearing a mask despite the inconvenience of wearing one. Now excuse me, I need to put on my raincoat and go for a swim.