A Pre-Semester Night’s Dream

Do you have the dreaded teacher dream?

For almost three decades now, I start every semester with a variation of the same dream: it is the first day of classes and my section is overloaded. Instead of 24, there are 48 or more. I begin talking to one half of the room. The other half is talking over me. I redirect my efforts to that side. Yes, you guessed it: the other half becomes unmanageable.

This happens Every. Single. Semester.

When the semester actually starts, I’m a bit on edge, waiting for that moment when chaos descends. My colleagues are not quite themselves either. There’s a ripple of uncertainty in the office area. Forced laughter. Abrupt departures (Oh no, I teach in 10 minutes).

I have insomnia. None of my outfits have the right look. I smile too much. I misspeak. I totally forget what I’m going to do.

And I would not change this feeling at all.

There’s nothing quite like meeting the students with whom you’ll spend 16 weeks. This semester I started my Teaching Shakespeare class with a cold reading of Puck’s speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumbered here

While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend:

If you pardon, we will mend:

And, as I am an honest Puck,

If we have unearned luck

Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,

We will make amends ere long;

Else the Puck a liar call;

So, good night unto you all.

Give me your hands, if we be friends,

And Robin shall restore amends.

We pulled our chairs away from the tables, sat in a circle and took turns reading a word at a time, then lines, then a choral reading, and then? Groups of four acted out a few lines using the props I stole from my attic. One group ended lying on the floor, all asleep after using a glass jar of fairy potion.

This is the real dream: engaging students from day one. Inviting them into the magic of the classroom.

So I value the dreaded teacher dream. Without it, what happens in the classroom may seem too rote, too natural. Yes: natural! These dreams, that insomnia before the beginning of the semester, keep me honest as a teacher. I work harder and do not naturalize a singular approach to the class.

It’s a bit like Puck’s magic, you know. All the world’s a stage and all that. For me, the semester is another time for performance, extemporaneous or not. After that first week, somehow I keep the teacher nightmare at bay. But I know it will be waiting for me, ready for another time to teach, learn, and live.

proFmagazine wants to know: What is your worst teacher dream?

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