By Doug Ward
and Andrea Follmer Greenhoot
As you shake out the post-break cobwebs from your brain and retrain yourself to recognize the half-hidden faces of students, we would like to pass along some exciting news. (Hint: It’s about masks! Yes, masks! Those things that are constantly on your mind – or mouth, or nose, or wherever you are wearing them these days.)
First, though, we’d like to remind you how far you have come.
Just two short years and an ice age ago, Americans were urged to rummage through musty dresser drawers and even mustier basement boxes for old t-shirts that could be tailored into masks. Unfortunately, that Covid-inspired scrounging led to many embarrassing moments as t-shirt owners tried to explain to significant others that they hadn’t really skied naked in Vail (despite the framed certificate of accomplishment), that the dozen threadbare “I’m With Stupid” shirts with pit stains bordering on the sadistic were “just a phase,” and that the odor emanating from all those concert t-shirts was probably just moth balls.
We are glad to put those (uh-hum, hypothetical) memories behind us. Unfortunately, just as we glimpse a hint of light in the Covid dungeon, viral reinforcements dim the view once again. As we continue to learn about the virus, we have no choice but to cast aside our beloved pit-stained t-shirt masks and don N95 respirators. The N95s make us look like we lost a face fight with a snapping turtle, but they block 95% of virus-spreading microdroplets. When combined with a t-shirt mask, they also block 95% of the wearer’s voice.
And now for the exciting news! (Please sit before you read further. We are not responsible for pulled muscles or damaged high-dollar desk do-dads if you make a sudden leap in the throes of excitement.) In the spirit of alternate realities, the Fashion Consultancy Division at CTE has scoured the internet (OK, mostly a site called Old Book Illustrations) for masks that will keep you safe in the classroom even as they show off your trend-setting fashion sensibility!
The selection of masks we have chosen provides protection against everything from sputtering spittle to wayward dragons and significant others who insist on wearing masks made from old t-shirts with sadistic stains and concert odors. They are also guaranteed to ratchet up your views on TikTok. Have a look!
This infinitely flexible full-body mask allows wearers to shield as much or as little of themselves as they wish. Having a bad day? Just shape yourself into the ancient demon of your choice and watch the mortals flee. Having a really bad day? Cocoon yourself within an impenetrable ice mound and soothe yourself with bites of premium chocolate between sobs. Faculty meeting droning on? Just grab a hunk from your torso and start lobbing snowballs. Every model of the Snowsuit comes with a carrot-shaped HEPA filter and six gallons of food coloring, offering a teeth-chattering array of fashion options. Wooden limbs and drip pans are sold separately.
This Star Wars-inspired respirator mask, modeled by Shawn Harding, has been available in limited quantities at KU since the beginning of pandemic teaching. It has a fashionable Stormtrooper white cap and jowl protector, and its face plate is guaranteed to withstand the electric pulses of a Jawa ion blaster. (Unfortunately, it is not machine washable.) It has an air hose that doubles as a keyboard cleaner and is attached to the body with an adjustable utility belt with pouches for hand sanitizer, dry erase markers, breath mints, and a lightsaber. It comes with an optional spittle screen (at left in the picture), which adds an extra layer of sound suppressant if students can still hear you speak.
This well-riveted option was inspired by the Knights of the Round Table, who were early adopters of active learning, and carries a KnRT95 rating. It is guaranteed to protect against all Covid variants, as well as rogue dragons, angry chairs, and colleagues who insist on jousting at faculty meetings. Weighing in at a hefty 60 pounds, it doubles as a muscle toner and diet aid. The faceplate and headgear are welded on once the suit is in place, totally obscuring the wearer’s vision and making removal virtually impossible. It comes with built-in GPS and self-oiling joints. Ornamental tassels provide a festive but non-functioning accessory intended to soften the severity of the armor plating.
This highly polished beauty will make you look ready to soar into outer space (or maybe to the Land of Oz). The top is made from 100% Covid-proof fashion plate produced in a foil-encased factory deep in the New Mexico desert, not far from a top-secret government facility long-rumored to investigate UFOs and other alien activity. A layered face and neck protector made from recycled barbed wire and old holiday lights completes the ensemble. An optional miniature satellite dish affixes to the dome and allows you to monitor suspicious classroom activity, online discussion boards, and random attempts at mind control. The Extraterrestrial is guaranteed to protect against coffee spills, snarky comments, and typos in PowerPoint slides. It comes with a lightning rod and a recipe for making your own neon-green slime, which can be applied liberally.
This beast allows you and up to six colleagues to safely teach behind two tons of armor, scales and non-functional wings. It comes with a remote-controlled drawbridge, an optional ladder, and a fire-belching steam whistle that signals the end of class as it burns away any roving virus particles. Because of its height (22 feet, 4 claws), it will not fit through the doorway of any building on campus. It is perfect for remote teaching, though, or for tying up near one of the remaining campus tents and surprising long-missing students who come close enough to investigate. It is fully outfitted with wifi, a microwave oven, a 5,000-meter extension cord, a chamber pot, and takeout menus from every restaurant in Lawrence.
Before you rush out and buy one of these high-fashion masks, we want to remind you to stay safe this semester. You know that, of course, but don’t let your guard down.
Also do what you can to make the semester as meaningful as possible, despite pandemic fatigue, brain fog, and voice-muffling protective gear. We have a wide array of resources on the CTE website and our Flexible Teaching website to help you and inspire you. We and the rest of the CTE staff and Faculty Fellows are also available to help however we can. Don’t be afraid to reach out, even if you are simply worried about whether it is permissible to wear a light-colored mask after Labor Day or whether the ear bands on your mask must always match your shoes. We don’t always have immediate answers, especially about fashion, but we can usually connect you with someone who does.
Now please excuse us. A crowd has gathered around the Trojan Dragon, and we sense an opportunity for learning.
Doug Ward is the associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence. Andrea Follmer Greenhoot is the director of CTE.