Since I started teaching 18 years ago, I’ve always had back-to-school nightmares. Most of them involve me not being able to get to the school, with all kinds of things, from car accidents to lost dogs, getting in the way. The other version of the dream involves me not being able to find my classroom within the building.
I just had a dream, however, that took this theme to the next level. I had put in for a personal day but they never got it, so I had to go to the school to tell them I’d be out. I got there and it took forever for me to fight my way through crowds of kids to get to the office. Once I told them, I had to go to my classroom to leave plans, and you guessed it — I couldn’t find my room.
I tried a grid search, but I walked through this entire made-up building and never found my room. I accidentally interrupted other classes in my search. There were hoards of kids doing some sort of a special scavenger hunt activity, so it took forever, but I couldn’t find my room.
I remember telling myself not to look outside because that never works in my dreams, but then suddenly, I was outside, locked out, and I had left my bag with my keys somewhere inside. I couldn’t leave. I was so frustrated and scared, and I fell to the ground. I remember thinking, “This must not be a dream; this grass feels so real.” I crawled to the front of the building in that realistic grass, looking for my friend. When I found her, I told her, “I can’t find my room. I must be having a breakdown.”
With that, I woke up.
Psychologists from all different schools of thought could all have a field day with that one. I get that. That’s not who I’m telling this story for, however. I’m not having a breakdown; this is the mind of an otherwise pretty healthy American teacher this summer.
In a good year, too much is asked of us. There’s high-stakes testing, new technology to learn and manage every year, and the social and emotional needs of our students (you know, in addition to our actual curriculum).
Last year, we also faced consistently changing schedules, sick and frightened students, and many of us were teaching synchronistically (every class, every day, I had some students in front of me and some of them in their homes Zooming their avatar into my classroom). We had to invent countless new lessons to try to engage students in front of us (but 3-6 feet apart, depending on what time of year we were in) and those at home who may or may not actually be behind their avatars and awake. To say things were challenging is an understatement.
I get that we’ve all struggled, that teachers aren’t unique in that struggle. What I can offer, however, is my experience as an educator. One-fourth of us considered leaving this year, according to CNBC. As the rest of us get ready to (or already have) go back to school with your kids, please know that we want your kids safe. We want to be able to do the job in a way we couldn’t last year. We are up in the middle of the night symbolically trying to reach their classroom to do a job they love.
Please be patient. Please be kind. Please be hopeful. I may be lacking some sleep this fall, but I’m going to walk in with patience, kindness, and most importantly, hope. I know we all need it.