It’s the first day of school, and I’ve been called in on an emergency basis to fill in at the elementary school where I used to teach. Since I’ve been gone, the entire staff has left and been replaced by people I don’t know. Also, the locations of all the classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and library have changed. I can’t find my music classroom. I don’t have the main office number listed on my phone.
When I finally locate the music room, it’s filled with unruly students running around and using the ceiling light fixtures as trapeze swings, no responsible adults in sight. They’ve just been dropped off, and I have no idea what grade they are or when they will be picked up. I have no class list. I have no schedule. I don’t know what books, supplies, or instruments I have or where they would be located. I have no strategy for getting the students under control, no first-day activities planned.
No, this didn’t really happen, but it is a recurring dream I’ve had frequently in the five years since I resigned from teaching. I’ve also had variations on this dream: my new classroom is a cabana on the beach and I have to keep my kindergarten students from drowning in the surf; it’s the day of the big musical performance and I’ve forgotten to cast or rehearse it.
And it’s similar to dreams that even veteran teachers have about being unprepared for the first day or for back-to-school night.
I actually always loved the first few weeks of school. Everything was fresh; the students were well-behaved, confident that this new year would be the best yet. The students at my school had new clothes and backpacks and pristine supplies to begin their classes. The impetus of novelty continued while the kids were challenged to progress to the next level.
This is the first year that I didn’t have a pang of regret on the first day of school. I like retirement enough that I’m not missing the back-breaking labor of setting up my classroom (teachers spend the day after the last day of school clearing their classrooms so that annual maintenance like deep-cleaning and painting can happen over the summer). I still miss the vibrance of working with kids, but my students who were kindergarteners when I resigned are now in sixth grade (not my favorite age group). I don’t think I could pick up where I left off.
The schools in my neck of the woods opened a few weeks ago, but when we lived in New Jersey, the traditional start of school was the day after Labor Day. Best wishes to all who are starting out this week. Give your teachers a hug for me.
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A member of a writers’ group to which I belong woke up one morning with a fully formed story in her head. She had to do a bit of background checking to make sure some elements of the setting were accurate but the basic plot was all there. I’ve never experienced that but I have had dreams that were useful in crafting a narrative.
Dreams, they tell us come from the subconscious. Some suggest they are representative of psychological conflicts working themselves out. Others say they’re just random brain functions sorting informational experiences from the day before. A few believe they are transmissions from the supernatural. I would like to believe the latter because it would be more fun but I have my doubts.
Babies, particularly newborns sleep a lot – some as much as 20 hours per day – some even preferring sleep over food. Do they dream? Probably. Dreams occur during rem sleep. Adults have about 20% rem sleep whereas with babies it’s more like 50%. So if a baby is sleeping 16 – 20 hours a day, that’s a lot of time during which they can dream. Therefore it might be hypothesized that dreams are a means by which the brain sort itself out – establishes neural networks and that sort of thing. Parents report that babies can be pretty active when they sleep. That suggests that while they may not dream quite like adults, their dream life is possibly as real, or more real to them than waking.
Certain psychological practices make use of dreams. In one, the patient selects any character from a dream, imagines the individual sitting across from him and starts a conversation. Then the patient physically moves to the other chair and responds from the dream character’s perspective. The dialog proceeds this way and is supposed to assist in working out underlying mental problems. I don’t know if it does the latter but it’s a pretty good strategy for getting into the head of a new character whether that character originated in a dream or not.
From a writer’s perspective, one of the more useful things about dreams is that they’re unstructured. In a dream, literally anything goes. You can meet and defeat monsters. You can sustain any amount of abuse without feeling any undue pain. You can meet people from your past who have died and you can die yourself without consequences. As a result, dream images can be highly surreal and that is useful for stretching the imagination. Last night for example I met my cousin’s great grandchild. I have no idea whether a great grandchild exists in real life and consider it somewhat unlikely; nevertheless, there she was and her name was Harmony. This is not a name I would normally come up with and I certainly don’t know anyone with such a name but it sounds like one that might fit into a story.