How Transparent Masks Help Teachers Connect
As school districts plan for the 2021 school year, many of them are weighing the question of mask mandates to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have stopped short of issuing a national mask mandate, the CDC guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K–12 schools calls for universal masking — that is, all adults and most children — in areas where conditions call for it.
This is especially important in schools with younger children who do not yet qualify for a vaccine. Unfortunately, this age group is also the age group that may be most affected by not being able to see a teacher's full face. Masks that hide part of the face may make some students uneasy, make it more difficult for them to recognize emotions, and even affect their ability to communicate clearly.
Transparent masks — face masks with a clear panel that lets the mouth and other facial features show — for teachers and other adults can help reduce all of those effects, making it easier for teachers to connect and communicate with their students.
Benefits of Transparent Masks
While there are many reasons for wearing face masks when returning to school, there are a few reasons that make transparent face masks an especially good choice for teachers.
Help Younger Students Recognize Familiar Faces
Kang Lee, a professor who studies the development of facial recognition skills in children at the University of Toronto, noted that adults recognize faces as a whole, but children don't even start to develop that skill until about age 6, and it's not fully developed until around age 14. Children younger than 5 may have trouble recognizing even the most familiar faces when they can only see the eyes and forehead.
A clear mask allows more of the facial shape to show, which gives younger students more points of reference to help them identify their teachers and other adults in the school more easily. That, in turn, will help them feel more secure in the school setting.
Make It Easier to Identify Emotions
Even adults can have trouble identifying emotions through facial expression when the mouth and chin are covered. Imagine how much harder that must be for children who don't have the wider experience and frames of reference.
In studies that asked children to identify emotions from pictures, they were more likely to make mistakes when the person was wearing a mask. A mask that covers the mouth takes away a lot of the information they rely on to identify emotions. Being able to see your smile makes it much easier for them to recognize when you’re happy with them.
Help Students “Hear” More Clearly
While clear masks are often recommended for people who interact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, it turns out that we all use a little bit of lip reading to help us understand the words we’re hearing.
Recent research shows that patients who spoke with surgeons wearing clear face masks rated them higher in communication skills than those who spoke with surgeons wearing traditional surgical masks. In fact, even though clear masks affect the sound more than cloth masks do, being able to see and read lip movements made it easier for people to understand what was being said.
Are Clear Masks Safe and Effective?
One of the biggest questions about clear face masks is whether they are a safe, effective means of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. According to the CDC, clear masks are an alternative type of mask for people who interact with young children or children who are learning to read, students learning a new language, and people who need to see the shape of the mouth for making appropriate vowel sounds.
There are, however, some specific things to look for — and to watch out for — when buying a transparent mask. The plastic panel is less permeable than cloth, but the mask construction and other factors also play a part in whether or not a particular mask is an effective alternative.
What to Look for in a Clear Mask
These tips from experts will help you choose the best transparent mask for teachers.
- Check the construction, especially where the cloth attaches to the plastic or vinyl. There should be no gaps or large holes in the stitching, which can allow particles to escape. It’s best if there are multiple pieces of fabric stitched together to minimize any gaps in coverage.
- It should cover the nose and chin, and include a nose rest or nose clip so that the mask conforms closely to the shape of the face.
- Ear clips can help adjust the mask to conform more closely by shortening or lengthening the ear loops.
- It should not touch the lips.
- An anti-fog film helps keep the mask from fogging up and obscuring the mouth.
While having to teach while wearing a mask is not optimal, masks are a vital part of helping stop the spread of infection. A transparent face mask can offset many of the negatives associated with wearing face masks, and help teachers connect and communicate better with all of their students.
SmileMask, a ADA compliant clear face mask, is a great alternative to regular face masks that maintains the human connection everyone requires — especially children and people within the hard of hearing community. Interested in buying SmileMasks? Reach out to our team and place your order today!
Deb Powers is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who has been writing about schools, child development, and general wellness topics for nearly 20 years.
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