I shall miss quarantine

It's an unpopular opinion, but I've seen the silver lining

I AM THRILLED to be getting back to normal life. My parents’ have had their vaccinations. The school district where I teach is calling students back to the classrooms.  The normal cycle of life is returning just as the snow is melting. It all seems like it is part of the spring-rebirth cycle.

Nonetheless, I shall miss my yearlong quarantine.

While many joke about the trouble of too much togetherness, I have been given a rare opportunity as the parent of teenagers: I got to spend time with them.

Both my children attend the same school in which I teach. This year my son is in the same grade that I teach. And while I knew I would not have him in my class, I thought I would get to see him every day in the freshmen wing of our school. At the very least I might get to know his friends who would be in my class. (Knowing your children’s friends is an invaluable parental tool.) Alas, COVID changed all that.

I am now Zoom teaching several of my son’s friends. Yes, they are indeed my students, but I don’t truly know them as we are on screens and most have their cameras off. And I don’t get to see my son either in the hallways or interacting with his pals.

I do, however, get to see my son every day! In fact, I see him all day, every day. While this may seem like an obvious statement, I must remind everyone of what was and will soon be the normal teenage life: avoiding one’s parents. Teens go to school, have a job, partake in after school clubs, and — when they are home — sequester themselves in their rooms.

This was my daughter’s first year at the school. Do you remember your first day at a new school? Now imagine trying to do that on Zoom. Chatting in a breakout room is not the same as sharing a lean over to the person next to you to have a conspiratorial chat.

Fortunately, several friends from her old school are also attending the new school. When the weather permitted these friends formed a learning pod where once a week they would gather in a backyard and attend separate Zoom classes together. What a unique experience for them. (When I went to my first day of high school I did not see my best friend at all since the scheduling gods had conspired against us.) The camaraderie of my daughter’s friends was therefore even more lovely to watch.

I have also gained a great appreciation for the work of my colleagues. Before the pandemic I tried my best to visit other classrooms in order to know what my students were experiencing. I’d see the posters with foreign languages captions plastered in the hallways, and maybe I’d catch a glimpse of a science experiment as I passed the labs as I stretched my legs on my off period. But this past year I had a bird’s eye view of the incredible, interactive assignments my colleagues were using in class. I’m not ashamed to say that I copied many of their ideas for my own classes.

This past year both my children have grown, figuratively and literally. Over the past 12 months I have observed my children not only master remote learning better than I have, but I’ve witnessed them gain independence in their school and homework. They have become better writers, have learned new languages, and have kept themselves on schedule far better than I did in the 1980s.

And I have seen them literally grow. The early teenage years bring enormous physical transformations, most noticeable is height. While their growth spurts would have happened with or without the pandemic, the extra sleep from staying at home certainly helped. Pre-pandemic, the alarm clock thundered in our house at 0530 hours. Our high school started at 7:20 am — the earliest in the city. But thanks to Zoom all students got to sleep in later, sometimes until the very start of class. Thanks to a full year of a good night’s sleep, my children, and indeed all students, have gotten the best rest of their scholastic lives. What a change awaits us all.

The return to the “old” normal is both inevitable and needed. Routines are good and predictability is healthy for us all. But please join with me in not condemning entirely our so-called lost year. Let us remember the unexpected gifts that time has given us. And let us try to replicate them frequently as we return to normal.

Michael J. Maguire teaches Latin and Ancient Greek at Boston Latin Academy.