Friday, October 29, 2010

Literal College Dreams (and Nightmares)

While reading the comments to the post "Sick but Not Ill," I came across Merely Academic's response that mentioned his/her literal college nightmares. I thought about my own work-related dreams, and want to know yours!

Like many of my other repeating dream themes, my teaching dreams take place on a couple of main dream “sets,” which have remained consistent and have repeated themselves over many years now, though the plot content of the dreams is pretty much the same on all sets:

Set 1) Modern campus with immense, Tiananmen-sized plaza. On one side of the plaza is an instructional building, about five stories high, which I usually never enter. On the other side is a five-story admin. building, which apparently has a nice bathroom in the basement, since I often go in there and take the elevator down to the subfloor when the need arises. The building is always very dark, with a couple of menacing security guards patrolling around, and drab gray carpet.

This infernal campus naturally has a satellite campus, which is where I eventually realize my classes are. For maximum annoyance value, this remote campus (and my waiting class) are at the far end of a 200-foot-wide, one-mile-long pedestrian mall, and I’m always running across the huge, brick-paved plaza and then down this connecting pedestrian mall (against the wind) about 15 minutes late for my class, carrying my heavy computer bag, and usually either naked, or dressed in sweatpants, flipflops, and a torn t-shirt/tank top, which commonly become irredeemably covered in feces as I dash into a filthy restroom down the hall from my class full of students, on a last-minute pit stop before class.

There’s a distinct feeling of anxiety that my students will give up on me and leave before I arrive, and of course my attire (or lack of attire) feels completely inappropriate and makes me very self-conscious. Sometimes I do finally arrive at my room, trying to arrange my clothes more neatly at the last second, and half of the students have left, and the ones still there are totally pissed at me, so I struggle to maintain classroom order as I try to salvage what's left of the class meeting.

Set 2) Old, very big, three-story red-brick schoolhouse with large, wide, wooden stairs with banisters. This is a lot like my real-life elementary school, but I teach college here in my dream, and I just cannot find my fucking classroom the first day of the semester. I run all the way up to the third floor from the first, run down the hallways, and can’t find my room number posted anywhere (which I’ve written on a piece of paper, probably incorrectly). Maybe my class is on the second floor? Maybe the first? Maybe I'm here on the wrong day? So I interrupt lots of classes (I’m already 10 minutes late for class) and ask the bored-looking students they’re my class. They aren’t. So I run back down all of the goddamn stairs to the bottom floor, and run to the records office to ask them what my room number is. They usually have some computer problem, and can’t tell me, so I look in the paper schedule, and can’t find it. I’m getting more and more late and anxious, so I run upstairs again to try to find the fucking classroom. I repeat this upstairs/downstairs procedure about five times before I move on to another dream.

I also have lots of dreams about junior high school, wherein, similar to Merely Academic’s dream, I’ve been enrolled in a class all semester without knowing it, then discover/remember this fact near the end of the term, or right before the final exam. I freak out, run to class, and everyone wonders who the hell I am. I get really anxious about the work I missed, and dearly hope that just by taking the final exam I can pass. (This sounds like some of my real-life students at the end of the semester!) Add in a bunch of anxious scenes in which I search at length for my goddamn locker among hundreds of other ones that look identical ("Is it number 432, or 452? Is it a yellow locker, or a blue locker?") then not being able to remember my padlock combo as I spin and spin the dials on suspected lockers ("Is it 32-4-22, or 22-5-31? Maybe it's 15-3-6?") and you've got a recipe for a nice, annoying dream. I've had variations of this dream probably 50 times now in the last few years.

Clearly, teachers were often fairly obsessive students, so this personality trait carries over into our dreams, and the intensive, structured, high-expectation, deadline-oriented, super-interpersonal nature of college instruction can really affect your psyche. It’s been obvious to me that I have trouble leaving my work at work…

What are your literal school dreams and nightmares?


  1. I, too, have had Merely Academic's Oops-I've-forgotten-to-teach-the-third-class nightmare. I get that one right before the start of each term.

    Before I started my current position (and when Crazy Math Spouse was looking for a job near mine), I had a nightmare that I had accepted two positions. I was teaching the courses at my real school but I had forgotten all about the classes at the far away other school (it was a school whose offer I had turned down). The worst part is that I couldn't even remember the the names of the people I needed to contact to get an office, books, and schedule for my classes at the other school.

    Sometimes I have dreams that I'm stuck at my desk and can't get to the classroom to teach. Or that I can't physically make notes for class that is in 20 minutes. I just keep trying and trying but nothing will work. I dream I forget to make the exams and show up to class without them. I have dreams that it's class minus 1 hour o'clock and I can't get out of bed.

    But the worst nightmare that I have is as follows:
    I'm a mathematician, as you all might have guessed. But for some reason I'm assigned a course in English, History, or (insert random humanities/foreign language department here). I have no idea what to do. I can't understand the readings myself and I've got to lead students who are less confused than I am.

  2. I haven't personally had any recurring work-related dreams but a colleague relates this one similar to CMP's:

    She shows up for a large lecture class that she has been assigned. She's known about this class since the schedule came out so it's not a surprise. The catch is: It's not in her subject area. Think American History teaching Physical Geology. She thinks she knows enough to "fake it" because she had an undergrad Geography class twenty years ago. The students quickly realize she's faking it. They don't say anything or call her out. They just sit there and watch her flounder around with a look that she describes as Pity. And that's the worst part of it. The students pity her.

  3. I've had a recurring nightmare almost exactly like the 3rd one you describe: I'm almost always a student (sometimes the prof) who has completely forgotten to attend a course until the end of the semester and now has to figure out how to catch up or successfully navigate the final. I've had it for years, and it's terrifying every time.

  4. I have no literal work-related dreams. My anxiety tends to manifest itself as long drawn-out horribly detailed scenarios of me having sex with inappropriate people, usually colleagues. I would love to have naked in front of 50 students kind of dreams: far less creepy!

  5. You might want to try some warm milk at bedtime.

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  7. I recently had a nightmare in which I was back at Oxford, and I defeated a vampire. I hammered the stake through his heart, dragged his coffin up a long flight of steps into the sunlight, the whole bit. While doing this, I was cussing about having to do all of it myself, because everyone else had chickened out. It’s obvious where my subconscious came up with this. I used to cuss in exactly the same way when I was department chair. I’d have to deal with some university administrator, inevitably all by myself since everyone else had chickened out. Even though I won, it was a chore.

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  9. 1) I'm going to give an exam but I am unable to get copies made on time so I have 150 impatient lower div random fuckbag gen-ed students champing at the bit and slowly turning to revolt while I dart back and forth to see if the machine's working yet, wondering how much longer I can stall them. Now they are making fun of the way my shirt buttons are too tight for my bust.
    2) I'm going to give an exam but something's terribly fuxxored-- I managed to accidentally xerox last-years, terribly-flawed exam that I didn't teach the material for, and I've pulled the wrong slides/PPT is wonkey.
    3) Interminable, fuxxed job interview. Conference cattle call appointment is far away from my room and my watch is apparently broken. I've forgotten to iron my shirt! Wait, I haven't even brushed my hair! And my pen doesn't work so I have to ask and borrow one. They are very thin and tastefully and expensively dressed and clearly view me as a buffoon.
    4) I am still a student. I have apparently forgotten to drop calculus and the final exam is tomorrow. The textbook I can pretend to learn something from (hopeless!) is in my locker, the combination long, long forgotten. 4b) I have forgotten to drop upper div history of XXXX. Tomorrow the paper is due. I run off to dreamlike byzantine endless retro library with low ceilings, fuzzy carpet and cryptic filing system to try to figure out something I know enough about to fake it. . . History of Early Modern Hawai'i. . . parrots! No, wait, not many parrots in Hawai'i. . . Wait, what 3/4 floor of which building are the NX2BA3787ds shelved on?!

  10. No nightmare could possibly be as bad as the class of 80 undergraduate education majors I had, for a poorly conceived course on "Energy, High Technology, and Society" that the state government mandated to be taught to them. Why K-6 teachers need to know this I'm sure I don't know. I tried not to let this show, though: I did my best to be enthusiastic about the subject, because it is genuinely important for understanding current events.

    Not that any of these kids followed the news or had any knowledge of the world around them, of course. Their childishness, coupled with their stunning lack of reading, writing, mathematical, or thinking skills, coupled with their positive antipathy to learning anything new and their inveterate, non-stop grade grubbing, made this such a nasty experience.

    One thing that didn’t help was that, when the class began, I had no idea that undergraduate education majors have the lowest SAT scores in the university, and that they graduate to the lowest-paying jobs. My father was a high-school teacher, and he was a smart fellow: he also retired in 1970, because he didn’t handle the ‘60s well. It’s good he didn’t live to see what education has degenerated into. I am hard pressed to come up with a nightmare worse than this, aside from the society that this is fostering. God help the United States of America, even though its problems are every bit our own damn fault.

  11. Oooh, I have those "I'm still a student" nightmares, too. I'm still a student and I'm taking calculus in a very large, creepy classroom that looks like an extra set for a Harry Potter movie and I have an exam...and I've accidentally forgotten to go to class for, uh, the whole term.

    In the other one, I'm in the dining hall and I'm vegan and it's my first day and I'm the wrong damn line for everything.

    I used dream, every semester, that I was starting class with no syllabus and that I'd found out what the class was the DAY it started. Then I went to Starvistan and I was, literally, assigned a class the day it started, given two whiteboard markers and 400 students, and told to "go for it." Once I actually had the experience in real life, I stopped having the dream.

    I do not, however, want to repeat freshman year of college as a vegan.

  12. @ Froderick F von F

    RYS beat you to the "Education majors are the bottom rung" thing years ago, I'm afraid. It was a note from a senior Education student slagging the lazy geeks who fart their way through the program. And yes, I mean "geek" in its old sideshow attraction definition and not Grant Imahara of "Mythbusters." I would have yelled at your edu-tards, graded them harshly, and dumbed nothing down.

  13. @Strelnikov:

    I didn't mention the other half of the nightmare: my grossly incompetent department chair at the time, who caved in to their every complaint, no matter how patently ridiculous. Grading harshly was unnecessary: the whole class surprised even me by getting a D average on the final exam, and my department chair and her silverback accomplice gave me a right raking over the coals for it. I was still on the tenure track, at the time: the experience almost cost me tenure, ironic since it was about me upholding standards, and my retarded higher-ups undercutting it for me. Mercifully, that class has since been phased out, but I resolved that if I ever did get it again, I would run it by having the students give "gadget talks": pick a piece of technology and tell the class how it works. If there's anything ed majors like, it's talking to each other.

  14. "I am still a student. I have apparently forgotten to drop calculus and the final exam is tomorrow. " - hey, I have that dream quite regularly, every April - only it's organic chemistry. Also, I didn't even remember that I had signed up for the class and I haven't been there all term.

    These days I also have the "and I haven't set the exam and they're all sitting there waiting for me and I woke up an hour into the exam period and even if I got there right now there still isn't an exam waiting for them" quite regularly every exam period too.

    No Cookies, yours beat mine. Though I also have the "and I can't find the classroom and suddenly I realise I'm naked" nightmare at the beginning of term quite often. Though the "and I'm naked" part is usually in the related "I'm giving a paper at an important conference" dream.

  15. I have this recurring nightmare that I become a professor and end up teaching a bunch of snowflakes. I can't get tenure and get paid a lot less for doing a lot more work than my colleagues. I hate my job and can't get through a pile of marking without a drink. My students don’t respect me, my dean is an idiot who takes their side, my mental health quickly deteriorates and I start posting weekly about my misery on some blog...scary, scary stuff.

  16. @ Froderich F von F

    Those spastics had the gall to yell at YOU, and after they rigged the class to maximum snowflakeage!? Did these fuckwhistles fall down stairs often because they forgot they weren't on a level surface?

    This is why I'm opposed to executive meddling in classes; if the department head wants a class done x,y, or z they should teach the miserable bastard themselves.

    @ Anastasia
    Lenin's men are coming, dearie, you must flee Ekaterinburg...they have a Maxim gun, Moison-Nagant rifles, and sharp axes....their eyes are dull, their clothing dark...get out of the basement NOW, for they will shoot you;
    drive you out to a mine;
    hack your bodies into weird chunks;
    then sell the mine to Armand Hammer




  17. @Strelnikov: Don't worry, I got the incompetent chair at the bottom of this back, and good. I got tenure (not without a struggle, after that class), became department chair, and assigned her to teach that class. When she tried to protest my decision for doing so, I told her, "I genuinely think you would be better at teaching this class than anyone else, because of your understanding of the students." I know, it's not nice to gloat, but damn that was fun. Let's call it a dream come true.

  18. Mine is a lecture hall full of students who will not listen. They shout and scramble around the seats and mock me, and I stand there flapping my arms and screeching at them like a kindergarten teacher.

  19. I've had the forgot-to-drop/forgot-I-had-enrolled and test/assignment due dream, but it is never as bad as an old one.

    Long ago, in another life, I taught boy scouts and cub scouts how to shoot guns. A dream that followed those years that was particularly frightening. I'm at the front of an old, large lecture hall from my Alma Mater, and am instructing a room full of cub scouts, with rifles.

    There are no good ways out of that.

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  21. I've had the I-forgot-I-was-registered-and-now-it's-the-midterm/final dream too.

    I also had a bizarre dream where I was sitting for my lieutenant's examination in the Royal Navy — I was reading a lot of Patrick O'Brian at the time — and one of the captains examining me came out with this truly outlandish question, like "What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?", but even more nonsensical. I was caught between my fear of not answering or being slow to answer and risking the promotion or telling the captain that he was babbling and risking his anger and a possible court martial for insubordinate behavior.

    On the pleasanter side, I do have an enjoyable dream where I'm up in the science building of my university, which overlooks the stadium (in the dream). It's an old building with many forgotten nooks and crannies, and one leads from this building to an area underneath the stadium where the library tosses out old, unwanted books. The way down takes a lot of holding on by one's fingernails and squeezing through access panels that are barely big enough, but I make it down (and sometimes back up!) and am able to browse through the books and talk with the other browsers there about books. They drop the books off here because it's apparently easily accessible from the outside, but I never go that way, preferring the dangerous but fun climb down.

  22. Nullifidian, that latter dream is totally charming. It reads like the Cliff Notes of an unwritten Italo Calvino or Borges piece.

  23. I think the "I signed up for a class and forgot about it" dream must qualify for some type of academic archetype as I've had it at least once a year for most of my career. In mine, if I can earn an A on the final, I can get a C in the course.

    I have also dreamed that I showed up to class to teach but neglected to put on a shirt, that I'm locked out of my classroom and can't get my key or cell phone to work to get in, and that no one shows up ever for a class I'm teaching.

    But the scariest dream of all is when someone has gone back through my K-12 school district's records and determined that one of my teachers in X grade was not certified; therefore, we all have to come back and repeat that grade in an accelerated format.

  24. @Anastasia:

    Get a Ph.D., and your dream may come true! :-(


    Are you sure your dream didn't come true? It sounds close to more classes of mine than I care to admit. Since getting tenure, they're not as common, since there's not really any way they can harm me with their anonymous student evaluations of teaching anymore. It also helps to bring a chair, whip, and loaded sidearm, just like when lion taming. ;-)

  25. I tend to have dreams in which my office is full of students and colleagues all demanding things of me, and I have to get to my computer to deal with their demands, but they're all between me and the computer, and I'm getting more and more hysterical and they are completely oblivious to that, and just keep demanding more.

    Or where I'm tying to pack and get to the airport for a flight to something very important, but stuff keeps moving out of reach and people keep yelling at me.

    Or where I'm rushing through a very complicated campus, in and out of buildings, and I have to not be spotted by anyone, and I'm looking for a room but I can't remember the number or the building, and I keep going around the same corridor again, but if I get to that room things will be OK. Sometimes I get there, open the door and there's no floor, or there's a huge crack coming across the floor towards me, or that side of the building is slowly collapsing into rubble. That's _not_ a nice dream.


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