Weekend Wanderer: When In-Person Learning Gets Prehistoric

Wendi Rank
By

Tyrannosaurus rex teenagers were calamitous. Their presence altered any ecosystem unfortunate enough to host them. It’s possible they had a role in whatever freaky biology made dinosaurs so big. They were so different from their parents some argue they should be classified as a different species.

A different species.

For further research into adolescent T. rexes, I would like to invite the paleontologists of the world to my house. Without question, what we know about teeny bopper T. rex could be said of my 15-year-old daughter.

And for the past few weeks, my little T. rex has been in predator mode. She has been on the attack, roaring her displeasure with us. She prowls the house, out for blood, ready to devour everything in her path.

It’s not food she seeks, but vengeance. Why? Well, her dad and I dared to send her back to school, to resume in-person learning after more than a year of school online.

You see, my T. rex relished learning from home. She changed our ecosystem much like those prehistoric predecessors changed theirs. She commandeered our office as her classroom. Her bedroom became The Peach Pit After Dark – a hub of virtual socializing with other T. rexes beyond our pod.

Our decision to end her little work-from-home situation was not met with joy. In-person learning is stressful, she told us. If we were really so concerned with her mental health, why would we assault her with the anxiety of school? Besides, all of her T.rex friends are still learning virtually.

Oh, and she’s going to become a criminal. Just to show us how wrong we were to make this decision.

All of this vitriol has been directed at me, even though this was a joint decision. If adolescent T. rexes maybe had a role in making adult dinosaurs disproportionately large, so too do teenage girls have a role in making their mothers mammoth villains.

But I witnessed her difficulties with at-home learning. The Philadelphia Inquirer last month discussed high schoolers like mine seeing their grades slide with distance learning. My T. rex is a straight-A student, but she managed to spend about four days with much less than an A in band.

That can’t stand for so many reasons, not the least of which being I was voted Best Band Geek in high school. I mean, we have a legacy to protect.

So we sent her back to school. I huddled at my desk her first day back, reading interviews with other kids who returned to in-person learning. My stomach acid roiled as I waited for the clock to hit dismissal time. I watched her face as she approached my car, looking for signs of trauma.

Because what she doesn’t know is that I sent her back because I had to, not because I wanted to. Having her home this past year has been bittersweet. In three years, she’ll be gone. Off to college and friends and adulting. Having her home let me hang on. For just a little longer.

And pieces like this make me wonder if the decision to send her back was even necessary. Can’t she just virtually learn forever? Through high school and college? Post-grad? Doctoral program? Get a job where she works from home? Can’t she just spend eternity rotating between her bedroom and our home office, like the bird in a cuckoo clock?

My husband will say I’m cuckoo for even thinking this.

That first day back at school, my T.rex bounced into my car, ebullient and effervescent. She had connected with friends she hadn’t seen since last March. She was in a new building, which she’d mastered with ease. Her teachers had been thrilled to have her, an enthusiastic learner.

“So it wasn’t as bad as you thought?” I asked, happy to see her happy.

Remember the T. rex in Jurassic Park? When she breaks through the fence? How she roared as she attacked the stalled Jeeps? How she gobbled down the lawyer?

It was just like that.

“No,” she said. “It was AWFUL. And so STRESSFUL. Why did you make me go back? I want to be VIRTUAL. Can’t I just be virtual?”

She’s a different species alright.

I emailed her during the school day yesterday, which is a bit like petting a sleeping T. rex. You risk waking the beast – a beast with no compunction about biting off your head.

I just wanted to know how she was faring on day two.

“You sent me back to school you demon,” came the response. So at least I know in-person school has made her funnier.

Her punctuation needs work though.

She’s been asking for a reward, compensation for being forced into school. An Apple Watch should do the trick, she tells us.

Which is ridiculous.

What does a T. rex need with an Apple Watch?

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