It is easy to believe – what with certain restrictions being lifted, meals out once again making an appearance on our social calendar, post-work drinks becoming a possibility and finally being able to buy some clothes that fit – that the worry of Covid is long gone.
We are seeing fewer cases nationally, fewer bubbles popping, more time spent in school and in classrooms, more teaching, more learning, less Teams, less Zoom and more interaction. It is almost like normality, and it is wonderful. This is what we signed up for: to teach actual children, in an actual classroom.
But – and this is a big but – with news headlines reporting increasing numbers of cases abroad, and national absences from school for Covid-related reasons remaining in their thousands – it is apparent that we are far from out of the woods.
Covid and schools: The end of face masks in classrooms?
And here we are, once again, the teachers who have no special vaccine entitlement, no personal protective equipment, minimal social distancing, and a strong message of “keep calm and carry on”. Once, at the very beginnings of home learning, we were loved. Now, we are not given a second thought in terms of our safety or sense of worry. How does this all affect us?
The talk of the end of classroom mask-wearing in the near future features in many discussions. For us, as a profession, masks have been our one force field in protecting against infection.
Even if guidance and regulations did come late in the day, thanks to strong school leadership, many teachers and students have been protected by school policies and enhanced risk assessments.
Classrooms are notorious breeding grounds for a plethora of pathogens that favour close proximity, poor ventilation and the odd snotty sleeve. But, owing to our face coverings, many of us have seen fewer colds, sore throats and other ailments. A silver lining, if there is one.
Removing teachers' protection
However, once again, it feels like teachers are being fed to the lions. The genuine prospect of mixing with hundreds of children and, by default, their households, every single day without the minimum protection of a thin piece of material between you and a stint of isolation, at best, or serious illness, at worst, is frightening.
I am not saying this to scaremonger. This is our reality. This problem has not gone away: we are very much still in the middle of this pandemic.
Therefore, this is a plea. A plea to those in positions of power and authority: to school leaders, to Boris Johnson himself. Do not take our masks away.
For every extra 100 steps to return to get a forgotten mask from your car, for every reminder of “over your nose, please” and for every steamed-up pair of glasses, it is worth it. It is a security blanket that keeps us in the classroom, keeps us doing the job we love, and keeps us teaching our students.
This is what we need. We need our masks until all this is really gone. We need to feel safe at work. I really don’t think that is too much to ask.
Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets as @MissLLewis