This post continues our series on work and sleep with a piece about stress and dreams in the education industry.
I’m just… furious. Like so angry I’m sputtering and stuttering, as in “I – I – how could you – why would you ever think that … I just – you need to knock it off!” I’m standing in front of a room full of my students, and I’m spitting out these chunks of sentences and I’m doing it loud. I’m full-on shouting. I’ve definitely lost my composure. I’m yelling at them because they’ve been sleeping in class, and they’ve been turning in their homework late and doing it really poorly, and that makes my workload even higher because late work means more stuff I need to keep track of, and poorly written assignments take a lot longer to grade. And class size went up ten percent this year so I’ve got more students than last year’s maximum. So part of what I’m really shouting at them about is the fact that I can’t handle the workload. They also recently embarrassed me in front of some of the other teachers, including the one who supervises me. I shout incomprehensibly and they don’t care. It’s written all over their faces. If they cared then we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. Shouting at them just makes them care less, I can see it as they slump lower in their seats, look out the window, check their phones. My tie starts to feel too tight, I try to loosen it up but doing that one-handed while shouting doesn’t work so I use two hands and I’m sort of look down at my chest trying to see the tie and that’s not a position that makes for very effective yelling – it’s hard to feel righteously furious while fumbling with a tie with your chin tilted downward – so now I’m mumbling something about applying yourself and being a team player. I get the tie off and look up at the clock and I’ve just wasted several minutes of class time here accomplishing nothing, setting myself back because the students are even less engaged in the class now and now we’re short on time and will never get through all the material today.
I wake up. I fumble for my glasses, look at the clock. I don’t have to be up for another five minutes, I’m up before the alarm. That almost never happens. I’m usually so tired that I take a minute to wake up as the alarm is ringing. I went to bed early last night, which is probably why I had a dream I remembered. A lot of times I get about six hours of sleep, I don’t remember any dreams and I don’t wake up refreshed so much as I’ve just skipped over a few hours of blacked out time. But I went to bed early, I don’t feel so tired like I do most mornings. I don’t feel refreshed, though. I feel that work feeling, the sense of having too much to do and too little time to do it and the feeling that I must be letting someone down somewhere – either a supervisor who will be angry that I haven’t jumped through some hoop like handing in a report on what my gradebook looks like so far, or a student who will genuinely have an intellectually substantive question that I don’t have time to adequately address. I pull my clothes on quickly, the same ones as yesterday but I’ll put a clean button-down shirt over the top and hope no one notices.
I get the coffee brewing and am pouring my bowl of cereal when my daughter toddles into the room. She’s the center of my life in terms of my priorities and in terms of what I enjoy. She’s a lot of work but she’s a lot of fun and one of the only aspects of my life that I find genuinely restorative/rejuvenating. “Daddy I have a wet diaper,” she says. She’s good at talking. “I’ll take it off honey, then you can give me a good morning hug.” I get her diaper off, she gives me a hug. I check the time, grab the bus schedule.
Why the hell can I never remember when the bus comes? It’s like a mental block. I had this problem once years before. I bought a car for work. I had never bought a car before. I paid too much and got a pretty crappy loan. Maybe 8 months later the job didn’t work out very well. I didn’t need the car to get around except for job related stuff so I was stuck with a not very useful thing that cost too much money and I didn’t have a job to help make the payments. I started just forgetting where the car was. I just couldn’t find it sometimes, I would draw a total blank on where I had parked it. I ended up starting to send myself text messages about where the car was. The other day the same thing happened where I couldn’t remember the room number for one of my classes, total blank. I have the same thing with the bus time. It’s annoying and it makes me feel stupid.
I’m thinking of all this as I pick up the bus schedule from the shelf. Mental block just makes me life harder, get it together subconscious mind, what the fuck, why can’t you be on my side? I fumble to unfold the bus schedule. My daughter’s sleepy, she’s leaning on my leg which is nice, I like snuggles. While I’m looking down the page – why do they make the damn print so small on the bus schedule? aw christ I’m getting old – I say without looking at her, “did you have any dreams last night sweetheart?” I’m only sort of paying attention, I have to ask her to repeat herself, she says “yes but I don’t remember any of them.” I find the time on the bus schedule, I’ve got half an hour.
My daughter sits in my lap while I eat my cereal, she eats the occasional bite. She likes cereal when I’m eating it but not when it’s in her own bowl. She’s talking to me but I’m not really paying attention. I’m running through my mental list of what I have to do today, and trying to remember my lesson plans. I’m full of work feeling, my muscles feel tense and I keep thinking about the stuff my students have done that annoy me, I’m still in the bad mood from the dream. My wife walks into the room. “There’s coffee,” I say. I mean it as “good morning, it’s nice to see you” but that probably isn’t clear. It’s certainly not what my tone of voice says. My wife says thank you, pours herself a cup, starts making herself some oatmeal. I wolf down the last of my cereal and set my daughter down so I can grab my coffee. The coffee’s bitter, a little too strong. That’s fine, it’s that kind of morning. I’m starting to feel embarrassed about the dream I had, because clearly I made an ass of myself, and I feel embarrassed for being embarrassed about a dream.
I tell my wife “I dreamed I was shouting at my students.” She says “for what?” I say “I don’t know, basically just for begin students. I was out of line. It’s silly but I feel embarrassed about what I did in my dream.” She says “have you ever shouted at a student?” “I don’t think so. I also dreamed I had trouble untying a tie.” She says, “well at least you dreamed you looked good. You look good in a tie,” and she smiles. I give her a kiss on the cheek. The work feeling I woke up with is slowly starting to ease up, I feel like I’m getting un-knotted a little.
I hurry and pick out a shirt, brush my teeth. My daughter wants me to play with her, I check the time, ten minutes. I can play for ten minute. We push trains around the train track. I try hard not to let myself think about anything except the conversation these trains are having with each other. When work thoughts come up or I feel my shoulders tense up I make my train ask my daughter’s train a question and I focus really hard on listening to her answer. It’s not much but it’s something. Ten minutes is up. “Sweetheart, I have to go to work. I’ll see you tonight. I’m going to fix dinner for you and mama and then we’ll play afterward.” She says “no, stay here and play with me.” “I’m sorry sweetie I have to go.” I kiss her and stand up. She’s crying, but it’s that deliberate kind of crying to get her way. I feel annoyed with her for a minute and hate myself for it for a minute. I take a deep breath, pick her up to give her a hug, she squirms because she wants playing not hugs. I kiss her again, say goodbye and head for the door. I kiss my wife, “I love you, see you tonight, I’ll cook dinner okay?” “Okay. I love you too.” I walk fast to the bus stop, I’d run but I don’t want to fall on the ice again. I wait for the bus in the wind. I keep going back and forth from thinking about my dream and feeling tense like I’m already at work or thinking about how I wasn’t really paying attention to my kid and how she’s already so tall and isn’t a baby anymore and when did that happen?, and how I can’t get these moments back once they’re gone.
I remember from college how Sigmund Freud says something that part of the point of dreams is to fulfill a wish in your imagination that you can’t or won’t fulfill otherwise, and the point is to help you stay asleep. You have a mental itch of some kind, the dream scratches it enough so that you don’t wake up. I dreamed I shouted at my students, I guess I have a need to scream at someone, because of my job. Of course I do.
Originally posted: April 17, 2012 at Recomposition