A Teacher’s Nightmare


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This memoir comes from 2005, when I was teaching English as a New Language (ENL) to kindergarten and first grade children. Now, seventeen years later, I still have “teacher dreams” like this one.


I am in a room filled with the brightly colored decorations and clutter of a primary class.  It is 8:30 and the first student comes in bundled in snow jacket and boots and burdened with a backpack almost her size.  I am teaching kindergarten (God give me strength) and it is a winter day with no outdoor recess. 

            A boy enters next, followed by a parent: my class mother.  She greets me pleasantly and proceeds to remove her coat.  There being no place for it, she folds it up and stashes it in a corner on top of her purse and a brown bag she was carrying.  More students arrive with parents in tow.  I become anxious, and check the week’s schedule posted on the bulletin board.  No PTA program is planned.  I have no choice but to whisper a question to my class mother.  “Why are you all here?”

            “For the math demonstration,” she replies.  “Parent-child hands on math?”

“Oh.”  My co-teacher and I scheduled this activity for a weeknight.  Or so I thought.

            Now eight parents, with bags of materials, are perched around the room.  One dad has brought a guitar.

            “Apparently there is some mistake,” I say with a smile.  “This class was scheduled for a Thursday evening next month.”

            Most of the adults do not hear me.  Three look up vaguely and continue talking to their children.  No one moves to put on a coat and leave.  The room is crowded.  Seven moms and one dad are perched on bookshelves and miniscule chairs, conversing with each other, and being interrupted by noisy children showing off their work.  The rest of the students have unpacked and are milling around the room aimlessly.

            A sickening knot begins to form in my gut.  The room is descending into chaos.  I call to the students to sit in their chairs.  Most do but I see two girls go out the door.  I follow them into the neighboring classroom where they are taking toys off the shelf.  I speak to them severely; they put the toys back and return to the overcrowded classroom.

            Maybe I can teach some math.  Frantically, I search through a stack of math worksheets that I have collected for emergency lessons.  All the tasks require pre-teaching new concepts.  I couldn’t do that with this group.  No math lesson this morning.  I decide to read a book and paw through a shelf of paperbacks to find something appropriate.  I come up with a story called “Scrub” about a backhoe.  I call the children to the rug.  I have to shout to make myself heard over the noise.  The students are distracted: some sit down and some hang on their mothers. 

            The dad takes out his guitar and begins singing a silly song that gets the attention of the group.  He is a much better guitarist than I.  I feel a pang of jealousy and inadequacy.  He is doing my job and I am now looking bad: unprepared, unable to maintain order.

            My last thought is that I will read the story and improvise a lesson on phonemic awareness: have the students identify pairs of words that begin with the same sound.  I’m feeling sick.

            Like the trite endings of third grade stories: I wake up.  Relief pours over me, the nausea subsides.  It was only a dream.  I don’t teach kindergarten, and I will not be presenting at Math Night. 

Whew.  Deep breath.  Time to get up and get ready for work.

One thought on “A Teacher’s Nightmare

  1. I just had a dream like that last night. Couldn’t find the right room, the materials weren’t prepared, etc. Isn’t it amazing how deeply that anxiety sits inside us? I saw the school bus go by yesterday and was so relieved not to be getting ready for the first day of school. Patty


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