Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Mask Requirements? – 09/19/2020

We just finished up Week 4 of the semester, and I wanted to put in a couple of thoughts on how it has gone. I’m going to break this up into a number of posts, just so that this is not just one really long post.

Today’s topic is masks.

Sigh.

Masks.

Yes, we have a mask wearing requirement at my community college. I am fully in support of that policy, and I have not had any people in my classes who have been openly defiant or confrontational about masks. However, that does not mean this has all been easy.

I am a very hands-off professor when it comes to what students can and cannot do in the classroom. I have traditionally allowed all levels of eating and drinking, allowed students to come and go as they choose, had a minimal attendance policy, and largely allowed them unlimited access to technology during class.

The only time that I am not very lenient is if whatever the student is doing is noticeably distracting others who are trying to learn. This most often comes up with regard to cell phones or laptops, but it has also come up with food before – there are just some foods that are inherently distracting.

Now, with masks, it has become something that I have to deal with every day. The campus has a clear mask policy, as in they are required at all times on campus. From what I have seen, most students (and those who enforce it) don’t apply that much to students walking around outside, but it is certainly to apply to those in class.

Here is what our policy says:

“To avoid confusion and promote consistency, … masks (face coverings) are a requirement for presence anywhere on … campuses.”

Everything beyond that is up to the instructor in the classroom. So, for someone who is generally hands-off, I am the one who has to monitor what face coverings are being worn and whether they are being worn properly. Again, this has not been a problem in any of my classes so far, but it is something that I worry about. In other words, it ends up being that one more thing to think about each time I’m in class.

As of this week, we have also been told that our failure to ensure that masks are being worn and being worn correctly will result in us being written up. So, it is not just my responsibility to monitor, but it is also my responsibility to enforce. Again, it is not that I do not agree and not that I personally would feel a lot safer if everyone is wearing masks correctly in a classroom with relatively poor ventilation that we all sit in for 75 minutes at a time. It is more that this becomes just that one more thing.

We are already navigating a new semester, a new set of students, new expectations on social distancing, last minute changes to instruction, teaching with both social distancing and masks (I really don’t mind teaching in a mask, but that’s for a later post), and just the general atmosphere of anxiety and fear. To add to that the need to enforce mask requirements among my students is just another thing to add.

And, yes, I know this probably seems quite minor, and again it has not been a major issue. It just is one more thing. And this is a semester of a lot of one more things …

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of four, student of life, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all-around guy.

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