More teachers around the country are heading back to the classroom where we are facing a new set of norms and safety protocols. Many of us are just now entering our classrooms for the first time this school year. One of the biggest differences we will encounter upon return to face-to-face instruction is that we are now teaching while wearing a mask.
And while we’ve grown accustomed to wearing our masks while grocery shopping or zooming through the Starbucks drive-thru, teaching with a mask on is a whole separate kettle of fish.
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Here are 10 tips for teaching while wearing a mask.
1. Choose the right mask.
A good mask for teaching is one that fits well (and let’s be real – we all now have our favorite and least-favorite masks). Because masks muffle the voice, the full motion of the mouth and jaw will be important in order to get your point across. Select a mask with straps that don’t dig into your ears and that allow for full range of motion in your jaw. You want to be comfortable underneath your mask because comfort will facilitate better communication.
2. Consider a clear mask.
Clear masks allow students to see your mouth. Since teaching is so dependent upon verbal communication, a mask with a clear plastic face can be a lifesaver. This comes in particularly handy for language teachers, whether they are teaching high school students to pronounce this week’s Spanish vocabulary or elementary teachers instructing in phonics. Clear masks are necessary for deaf students and those who are fearful of teachers in masks.
3. Try mask accessories.
Tons of handy products have emerged since the beginning of the pandemic that make mask-wearing more comfortable. These products range from headbands with buttons designed to secure your mask, to mask extenders that eliminate ear pain. You might also look into mask brackets, which are silicone or plastic inserts worn underneath a mask to make breathing easier. Here are some helpful options:
4. Beware of vocal fatigue.
Teaching while wearing a mask will strain your voice in a whole new way. Your vocal cords may get tired, or your jaw may ache. Build in plenty of time each day when you aren’t delivering direct instruction so you can rest your facial muscles and voice.
5. Drink lots of water and hot beverages.
Water and hot tea with lemon and honey are your new best friends. They help soothe tired vocal cords, so when you are giving your voice a rest, make sure you hydrate. If your jaw feels sore at the end of the day and a hot drink isn’t cutting it, a hot shower or hot water bottle may help aching jaw muscles.
6. Decide on an attention-getter that doesn’t strain your voice.
Instead of shouting to get your students’ attention, teach them a different attention-getter. This might be clapping, a raised hand, the “quiet coyote” hand gesture, a drum, a bell, or a tone you play when it is time for the class to quiet down and focus on your instructions.
7. Warm up your breath and voice.
Just like stretching before running, you need to give your voice a little extra warmup time before launching into a full day of teaching. Try reciting some tongue twisters on the way to work, and sip on a hot beverage.
8. Use a microphone.
A lapel mic or one that hooks over your ear will help your voice grow louder without you having to do all the work. It’s worth checking to see whether your district will support such a purchase.
9. Project your voice from your diaphragm.
Take a cue from the drama teacher down the hall and practice projecting your voice from your diaphragm. This makes your voice deeper and more resonant, which means it is easier for your students to hear.
10. Provide written supports as you teach.
Consider providing written supports as you speak. This might be notes you write or project on the board, or it might be handouts with written instructions given to each student. Either way, make sure to emphasize your main point by putting it in writing, too.
Most of all, remember to give yourself a break. Teaching while wearing a mask is hard. Teaching during a pandemic is really hard. The most important part of our jobs is to connect with students. So slow down, take a deep breath, and know that you’re doing great.
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