A MiddleWeb Blog
Back to school. Most years this phrase elicits an excitement that is almost palpable. Teachers are eager to get into the classroom and meet the new faces that will make up their classes. Students are eager to be with friends that they haven’t seen all summer and to show off the latest styles that they’ve adopted while binge watching some of their favorite shows.
Parents are happy to watch grocery bills go down because their children aren’t home eating everything in sight (I speak from experience here). And administrators are eager to hear the hallways filled with the noise of students and teachers and all that start of school brings with it.
Unfortunately, the back-to-school spirit that usually permeates our nation in August and September has been marred by an issue that has made many school districts and school administrators villains. MASK MANDATES.
It’s seen as a dirty phrase. It invokes hateful words and discord among parents, stakeholders, staff, and students. In my Alabama community, it has made the beginning of the school year a living nightmare, dragging many of us, kicking and screaming, into a political debate that we never wanted to enter into in the first place.
My district’s decision on masking
I currently live in and work for a school district that put a mask mandate in place at the beginning of our school year. Our superintendent did it knowing he would receive push back from parents who were not on board with the need for masks in school.
As a district, we stood alone among our sister districts as we started school with everyone required to wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status (as of 8/27 Alabama was 51st among states with a fully-vaccinationed percentage of 37%).
The first school board meeting following this announcement was marked with irate parents who, in an attempt to have their voices heard, called our school board and our superintendent to the proverbial carpet to answer for the decision that was made about students wearing masks.
Experts and advocates spoke for both sides and the debate lasted for several hours. Ultimately, however, our district decided to stick with the mask mandate and informed parents, staff, and students accordingly.
Letting go of a hoped-for fall amid verbal assaults
And so the school year began. And we as educators tried to make masks fun, again, for this new school year. It’s not what we had in mind when we imagined this school start-up. We were full of hope. We wanted to start the year without masks and attempt to bring back a sense of normalcy after a year of masks, hybrid schedules, and virtual schooling.
We wanted to teach students and help them enjoy learning. We wanted to plan field trips and concerts and awards ceremonies so that parents could come into the building to celebrate their students’ accomplishments. We wanted a normal year that didn’t require us to be a part of a political debate. Yet, here we were, facing the reality that pandemic wasn’t really over.
As administrators, our job became much more difficult under the “mask mandate.” We have had to field parent complaints and anger as we enforced mask wearing in the schools. We have had to read slander against us for doing our jobs and listen to parents belittle our professionalism and integrity. We have had to stand silent and endure.
Our focus is on the students
And yet, through it all, we have maintained our dignity and our professionalism, knowing that we were in education, not for the parents, not for the district, and definitely not for the politics, but for the students. It’s the students and what we need to do for them that gets most of us out of bed early in the morning, five days a week.
And for me as an administrator – it’s also for the teachers. Those professionals that come to work every day and do the best they can with what they have been given.
I’ve watched them redesign lessons that can be taught outside so that students can remove masks for a while. I’ve watched them collaborate to ensure that students can do some type of group work even if it’s through digital platforms or for no longer than 15 minute work sessions.
I have watched staff come together to make the best out of an unwanted situation and do it with smiles on their faces (hidden, of course, by their fashionable masks).
And once again I have been amazed by the people that I am privileged to work with every day. They have adapted and overcome. They have put the needs of their students above their own political inclinations. They have looked at what was given and have decided to make it work.
And because of this hard work and complete dedication to our students, we have watched our students grow despite the hardships placed before them.
Working hard, anticipating more buy-in
I realize that we have only been in school for a couple of weeks, and I know that things may change. But I cannot help but feel a sense of pride as I watch my colleagues get the job done. It’s not easy, but they are doing it.
And changes are coming. In the past couple of weeks, as I have watched my local news, I have heard about more and more of our surrounding school districts implementing mask mandates as more and more of their students and teachers have been affected by the new wave of Covid.
I have listened to the superintendents of these districts refer to ours and our low numbers of students and faculty that have to go home due to close contact and/or positive test results. And I’ve realized that, although our mask mandate wasn’t the popular choice and many of us weren’t very happy with it when it was made, it may just have been the right choice.