Sunday, November 21, 2021

Still Going On about Masks!!

I've never been much of a rule-follower. I'm that teacher that lets kids sneak out early and shows movies with some questionable content (with kids forewarned and allowed to leave if triggered - none ever do). I go way outside of curriculum guidelines, allowing the class to guide the direction of discussion. In teacher's college, students in my first practicum told me a dirty joke. Back in school, other practicing teachers asked what I did: Did I give them detentions or send them to the office? No, I laughed. It was at that moment I vowed to be a teacher, not a cop - imparting knowledge without policing behaviours that aren't hurtful to anyone. I've always hated when schools feel like prisons, training grounds for factories with bells that tell us what to do, when, and for how long. 

But I do follow rules that make sense. And masks make sense. I even follow more than the rules suggest because our policies don't go nearly far enough to keep us safe.

So now I'm completely demoralized by suddenly being the enforcer in the classroom. 

Like many, I feel like we're managing low-grade depression: lethargic and slow moving, taking twice as long to finish anything, and struggling to care about the mundane details of our lives. I think I've worn jeans almost every day this term - the same jeans. But beyond that regular covid-influenced melancholy, I'm so tired of trying to convince students to wear masks when in the building, and wear them properly - over their whole nose, not just the tip - and then seeing colleagues unmasked in the building. We're teachers, and we influence the kids, and a disproportionate number of cases (over a third) are in those under 20. If we don't train them by example that it's no big deal to cope with this, then who will? If we suggest it's traumatic or unmanageable, then it will be.

It makes me think of that marshmallow test, when children are given one marshmallow and told that if they can just wait 20 minutes before eating it, that they'll get TWO of them!! The original findings of that study suggested that the kids who couldn't wait ended up with more tumultuous relationships and career paths decades later. The experiment we're living through has us being told that if we can just keep our masks on really consistently for a few more months, long enough to get the kids vaccinated and get us all boosters, then we can be done with this. But it feels like everyone's going for that first marshmallow and taking off their masks too soon to ever get the final reward of not needing the mask. 

A colleague said yesterday, as another came into the room, "Don't take your mask off yet or Marie will freak out!" I truly appreciate how many people will put a mask on as I approach, but I am honestly baffled that they only do it because I'll be upset or anxious instead of because there's a FLIPPIN' DEADLY VIRUS in our midst. Sure, it might only send a small percentage of the vaccinated to the hospital - a growing percentage, but is it worth the risk to ourselves and others? So far, breakthrough cases are about 1.5/1,000 in Ontario, but in our school of 2,000 people, that three people seriously ill or worse. Which three are we willing to infect?  (Also, it's unfortunate that, still today, a woman calmly presenting a strong argument backed up with solid research from reputable sources is seen as "freaking out" by an educated peer.)

Many get angry at the mask instead of the virus and some have told me that, after a set date (March 28 comes up in discussions), they're going to refuse to wear it anymore no matter what. I've heard that if you throw a rock at a less-intelligent dog, it will bark at or attack the rock, but a more intelligent dog will bark at or attack you. We're the dumb dogs barking mad at these bits of paper or cloth, losing sight of the big picture. It's like refusing to shovel snow in February because you're just sick of it. But refusing to shovel won't stop the snow from falling, and you'll just end up with a mess when you eventually end up having to clear out blocks of ice from the end of the driveway. The longer we keep going for the lone marshmallow, for that immediate gain of a little more comfort from not having a mask on, the further we'll be from ending this ordeal, and the further we'll be from the possibility that it can end. It's like getting annoyed with a parachute harness when you're 200' from the ground!

I'm typically very careful not to "out" anyone from real life - to protect privacy and because there are rules about complaining about your own board or school - but I am so done with this. We have a rule that we're allowed to take off masks when we're in our classroom alone with the door closed, but many teachers in my hallway take off their mask at the end of the day with their door wide open. And I really wonder what their rationale is because I'd really like to be comforted by it! Don't they know that the vaccinations wane in effectiveness over time, which is why we're getting boosters (hopefully - one day)?? Don't they know that the virus is airborne and stays in the air for hours, so taking off masks right after thirty kids leave the room is about as risky as taking it off when they're all IN the room. But, then again, I've seen some teachers at their desks with their masks off because they're six feet away from the class that's currently in the room, so clearly some are blissfully unaware that six feet isn't the magical protection they think it is. We're given food right before meetings, so I've taken a sick day rather than sit through a meeting when I know I'll be the bad guy for asking them not to eat with me in the room. 

And then there's the typical Public Health absurdities. We can't have classes switch halfway through the week at the end of January in order to balance out the schedule (so half the courses are ten hours longer than the other half, which is a difference of two weeks in our old system), but we're allowed to shift to four classes per day at the start of February, the very next week, which will double the number of people students are stuck with in poorly ventilated rooms. And we can't allow students to sit indoors with friends at lunch, but we can have random students walk up and down the rows moving from class to class taking donations for a variety of worthy causes. 

It's hard to be the hated one after decades of being the fun teacher, especially so near the end of my career. "The other teachers let us take off our masks and eat during class; they don't freeze us by keeping the windows open all day!!" And, from other voices, "Kids think you're a total bitch!" Yup. But I would be beside myself if the virus spread in my classroom because I was lax about keeping kids safe. The kids in my class are my responsibility. Letting them have "mask breaks" is like letting my own children take "seatbelt breaks" on the 401. It's unconscionable. Sometimes we have to be the bitch that protects the children even if we're hated for it. 

But, boy does it ever suck.

ETA - I feel a bit better from these comments from a ventilation engineer:

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