Amanda S. Creasey
Colonial Heights High School
Colonial Heights, Virginia
Amanda S. Creasey, Teacher
I stand in the sunshine in the middle of School Avenue on a crisp Wednesday morning in October. The sweet scent of fall–leaves, campfire–slips its invisible fingers between my skin and my mask, and lets itself inside. I inhale deeply. Six feet ahead of me, one of my students shivers, arms wrapped tightly around herself, shoulders tense, trying to ward off the morning chill. Six feet in front of her, another of my students dutifully waits, his hands in his pockets, his glasses slightly fogged. I don’t know what any of them looks like below their eyes, their masks obscuring their cheeks, mouths, noses, chins. I have never seen their smiles. Only the crinkles at the edges of their eyes let me know when they are grinning. On the first day of school I was worried I wouldn’t remember their names. How could I put names to faces when the bottom halves of all the faces would be changing each day when the students changed their masks? The Dallas Cowboys mask I saw Monday would be a Halloween mask on Tuesday and a solid red mask on Wednesday. Somehow, though, I had their names down by Day 2.
“Mrs. Creasey,” one of my students shakes me from my reverie. “Are you going to get your picture taken?” I confirm that I am. It is Picture Day, after all, though it looks different than last year–or any other year in my 15-year career. Instead of in the dim auditorium, we are outside in the parking lot, the bright sun coming up yellow and lively. Instead of clustering together in clumps in the dark shadows at the base of the stage, we’ve formed a loose line, six feet between each of us. Birdsong sifts down from the branches of trees at the edge of the parking lot. A mischievous breeze runs its fingers through carefully brushed, Picture Day hair-dos.
“Will you go first?” my student asks. “I don’t want to go first.”
I smile in acquiescence, though he can’t see it behind my mask, and approach Camera 1. It’s set up under the awning, a red, white, and blue Colonial Heights backdrop gently rippling in the breeze, the sun shining through it, causing the photographers grief. Alone in front of the camera as if on a stage, I peel my mask off and put it in my pocket, an audience of students who have seen my face only briefly, if at all, when I take a sip of water during class, watches expectantly. I feel self-conscious all by my lonesome, devoid of my mask, staring into the indifferent black eye of the camera. The photographer instructs me to smile, stand on the red tape, angle my shoulders this way, tilt my head that way–like he always does. The camera clicks several times–like it always does. Some things, it seems, aren’t that different after all. A few students clap for my performance, cheerleaders because I broke the ice. I put my mask back on and step aside, making way for my students.
I watch from several feet away as my students take their turns in front of the camera, unexpectedly moved: For the first time this year, I get to see their faces. I get to see their smiles. I didn’t know my good-humored girl with the pretty red hair’s mask hid a precious button nose, with an adorable dimple on the right side of her smile to match. I didn’t know my soccer fan was working on his facial hair. I didn’t know what any of them looked like at all, really, though I had formed some vague imaginings of their faces in my mind–most of them not at all aligning with the realities of their features, which are far more beautiful than I subconsciously imagined. I am surprised to see just how much their masks have been hiding about them. Braces. No braces. Freckles. Moles. Acne (blame it on the mask).
As my last student repositions his mask on his face, I thank the photographer and head back inside, a love for my students, whose names I can now truly put to their faces, warming in my heart. As we navigate the one-way hallways and climb the stairs back to our classroom, I realize that in 15 years, I have never been prouder to be a teacher, or to be a Colonial.