Back-to-school dreams

Classroom dreamThe previous post was an ode to the end of summer vacation.  But have you had your “back-to-school dream” yet?

My wife and I are both teachers: she teaches high school math; I teach seminary students who aspire to be therapists.  Usually, about this time every year, we have our obligatory dreams about the classroom.  And I know for a fact that we’re not the only ones.

The dreams are generally of the anxious variety.  Imagine yourself as a teacher, showing up for the first day of school, eager and prepared.  You stand to introduce yourself, and your new students start sniggering disrespectfully.  It’s not until they’re laughing out loud that you realize that you’re still in your pajamas.  Or worse: your underwear.

In these dreams, something bad always happens.  The students get rowdy and you can’t control them.  Your alarm doesn’t go off and you’re late.  You get lost and can’t find your classroom.  You misplace your lecture notes.  You have your lecture notes but for some strange reason they’re gibberish to you and you can’t read them.

Or my personal favorite: when I first started teaching, I dreamt that someone would discover that there were homework assignments I never turned in, and that therefore I never really passed that class or earned my degree.  Someone would reveal me as an impostor and I’d be kicked out.

Thankfully, I haven’t had that dream in a long time.  (The pajama one’s still possible.)

Freud might have had a field day.  But I doubt that there’s much mystery here.  Teaching is important to us, very much a part of our sense of who we are.  All else being equal, we’d prefer to succeed in the classroom rather than humiliate ourselves.  But we can’t manage every variable or control every circumstance.  We do what we can with what energy and resources we have and hope for the best, knowing that things may simply go awry.

As with teaching, so with life.

I suppose that the dreams I’ve described seem so distinct because of the distinctness of the yearly cultural ritual itself, that thing we call The First Day of School.  It marks the turning of a page, the beginning of another chapter by which students sometimes punctuate the stories of their lives, chapters like My Senior Year.  Indeed, I just received an invitation to my (yikes) 40th high school reunion.  That seems like eons ago (roughly Pleistocene, I think)–but I have no doubt that everyone there will have vivid stories to tell.

Whether you’re a teacher or not, new beginnings can be fraught with anxiety.  Another school year, or another school.  A new job, a new relationship, a new neighborhood.  We celebrate transition, and at the same time, we may fear it.  New possibilities are before us: we hope for success and worry about failure, all at once.

And our dreams may key us in to our lingering anxieties.  All the better to acknowledge them, and in prayer, to lay them before the Lord and ask for peace (Phil 4:6-7).

For my part, I’ll just make sure to look in the mirror before leaving the house.