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"Schools restricted where teachers could move in the classroom. I had to stand at the front behind yellow tape stuck to the floor. It was like a crime scene"
The guidance on masks in class may have been 'officially' removed by Government but some schools insist they must stay. This is one teacher's account of the madness
“There were some awful moments where I wondered just what the adult world is doing to its children: the sixth form student I saw sitting outside to eat her lunch, carefully lifting her mask in order to take a bite of food, instead of just taking the bloody thing off; the 13 year old boy with asthma who asked me for permission to take his mask off because he couldn't breath (at least some were able to get an exemption for that; the 14 year old boy who developed a massive headache during the course of a maths lesson. I told him to take his mask off. He wouldn't, he said it was too dangerous. I reassured him that it was perfectly safe for him to take it off and breathe some fresh air. He refused. ‘No Miss,’ he said. ‘It’s too dangerous for you’. I never want to hear a child say something like that to me again, ever.”
Eleanor Dobson, classroom teacher and union member since 1997
I CANNOT over-state the huge benefit to school children of Boris Johnson’s decision to scrap the wearing of masks. Children have been wearing masks in schools on and off since they first re-opened in September 2020, ultimately being forced to wear them from the moment they arrived to the moment they left, all day every day. I loathed it and sincerely hope it will never return. However, given their past form, I have serious doubts regarding the Government's trustworthiness on this issue, or indeed the willingness of some schools to give up the requirement.
I should make it clear at this point that I do not wear a mask. I told the agencies through which I work that, for various reasons, I would not be able to go along with this rule. If a school was happy to have me work on that basis, then I was happy to go, but otherwise I would not. I have not had any issues with getting work; if anything, since September 2021 I have been inundated with placements in a way that I have never experienced in 21 years of supply teaching – not even in 2020.
Over the years I have been a teacher, I have developed ways of making sure I learn the names of the children I am teaching during the course of a single lesson. It is a trick that helps me do my job properly: it helps dampen any potential misbehaviour and it helps to build a relationship rapidly. It makes it easier for me to help them and easier for them to ask. Mask wearing has been a barrier to this.
It is very hard for me to recognise individuals when half their face is covered, never mind learn their names. I can't easily tell if they are happy or sad, or struggling with something. Those wearing glasses are constantly battling with them misting up. If they think they can get away with it, many children pull their masks down below their chin, as indeed do many adults.
It is also extremely difficult to hear what children are saying when they wear masks. At one point, schools restricted where teachers could move in a classroom and I had to stand at the front behind a yellow tape stuck to the floor, like a crime scene. Anyone asking a question from the back was inaudible. Frankly, the front row was almost impossible to hear too. Nor could I go to children who needed assistance, or check their work, or correct any errors, or, indeed, check if they were actually doing the work at all. Children are much more likely to ask me for help if I happen to be passing by their desk than if I am at the front of the room, remote and unapproachable.
“Some schools threatened children with detention for non-compliance”
When children have spoken to me while masked, I have had to put my head very close to them in order to hear what they were saying, underlining the ludicrousness of the situation. Different schools have had different levels of enforcement, with some reminding children in a friendly fashion to put their masks on, while others threatened detention for non-compliance. One teacher marched into a class I was taking recently and barked at the students to put their masks on properly, because there was a pandemic on “or had they forgotten?” Well yes, until she walked in.
Schools have been supplying blue surgical masks if children forgot to bring theirs, or if the straps broke, but basically children have been expected to bring their own and usually they have worn the same mask all day. Judging by the state of some of the cloth masks I've seen, they were not being washed regularly, so my guess is the same masks were being worn over multiple days. They also often ended up on the floor.
So now that it ‘seems’ to be over, what do I think of the scientists, the government ministers, the union leaders, the adults who should know better, the adults who have done this to children in the face of multiple scientific studies that have shown no benefit whatsoever to them or the adults they are apparently expected to protect? Don't ask – you wouldn't like the answer.