The debates that we watch in the news and on social media have turned the wearing of masks into a political statement rather than a safety measure that it is. There are so many conspiracy theories flying all over the place that it has become easy to be so disconnected from reality.
As a teacher, this is not a luxury that you can afford. You are one of the few voices of reason that must remain stable in a chaotic world. Once upon a time, wearing hats and other items of clothing that shielded your identity were banned within the walls of the school.
And now, everyone is expected to wear masks. O how the times have changed indeed! That said, to avoid going down that rabbit hole inspired by the statement , to wear or not to wear, let us get this straight, masks are mandatory. Period.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, how do we get students (most of whom by nature are predisposed to ignoring rules and doing as well as they please) to sign off on wearing masks and actually doing so? Well, the answer is not so easy but it is very doable nonetheless.
1. Hear them out
One of the main reasons students flagrantly ignore school regulations is because they feel that it does not reflect their interests well enough. And if you think about from their perspective, you can understand how oppressive it might feel.
If you really want them to share their genuine opinion on the subject, give them an anonymous way to share their thoughts. No matter how ridiculous their concerns may sound, you must take it seriously and address things from their position or perspective.
Provide direct answers where you can and try to be reassuring in your response. If you want to address their responses in public, you can do so but it will be most effective if you’re able to do it one on one with them.
2. Lead by example
If you want students to wear masks, you cannot be caught not wearing a mask. Your actions should match the things that you say. Let them know through your habits and lifestyle that you are taking things seriously.
The underlying message is that safety is paramount. Also try to ensure that your colleagues are complying with the mask on rule. If everyone is on board with the school’s safety regulations, wearing a mask shouldn’t be a problem.
There might be differences of opinion but on the subject of masks, there should be a show of a united front. This display of leadership should not be limited to masks alone. They should see you frequently washing/sanitizing your hands, keeping your workstation clean and also maintaining social distance as much as possible.
3. Give room for individuality
Just because the masks are mandatory doesn’t mean that everyone has to wear the same thing. To inspire your students to keep wearing those masks, you can allow them to make them ask a part of their fashion statement.
Yes, we know the masks are for safety reasons but a lot of students especially in the younger classes will not understand why. However, if you get them to do it as part of their fashion accessory, they might be more keen to wear it.
So rather than make it a one-size-fits-all type of situation, let them know that the rule is in place for the protection but at the same time they can make lemonade out of the situation by rocking the mask in prints or fabrics that represents their individual style personality. They could also use it to make a statement as long as it is not offensive. In general, give them room to be expressive with their use of masks.
4. Communicate! Communicate!! Communicate!!!
Communication is key in nearly every situation. It is not enough to just put up a rule and say this is what it has to be. You have to talk to them about the importance of this role. Let them know the facts of the situation and help them to understand the role that they play by wearing the masks.
This is not to say that you should scare them with the negative news that is out there. That is a big no. But at the same time, you don’t need to cuddle them. This is an opportunity to let them understand the part that they have to play in managing the pandemic.
Help them understand where they stand in the chain of transmission so that they know even if they are not showing any symptoms if they catch the disease, it is possible that they will spread it to loved ones who can get really sick as a result.
When you communicate the message this way, they don’t see it as you trying to control or stifle them. They will see it as them playing their part in getting the pandemic on the control and will be more open to wear a mask as a result.
5. Have an optimistic attitude
You have to admit, images of a classroom with desks spread wide apart and students sitting far away from each other while wearing masks paints a very vivid image of a dystopian future. Something that once upon a time was only seen in movies.
But as this becomes a reality, it can be very scary even though your students will most likely try to act tough about it. Even as an adult, you know that these are very scary times. However, your role as a teacher and leader in the classroom is to help them see the light even when things seem dark and gloomy.
The only way to do this is to have a positive attitude about the whole situation. I am pretty sure you are wondering what can be positive about this whole mess? Well, for starters you can help them understand how important it is for us to take care of each other and even though we can’t hold hands and sit as close as we would love to, wearing a mask is a very effective way to care for the next person beside you.