It’s August. The dreams have begun.
In one, I am freaking out because of a surprise evaluation. The kids are chaotic, I have no idea what to do, and the principal is walking in the door. How can I possibly do well? What are the expectations? It’s assumed that I know what to do, and what he’s looking for, but I have no idea and am petrified to ask. The noise, the movement, the anxiety all become overwhelming and I wake with my heart pounding.
No more sleep until dawn.
It’s always like this, every year, as far back as I can remember. The dreams begin, then the lists, then the panic, then the planning.
I teach in a really small school district where many of us have classes in more than one discipline, and most teach more than one subject in that discipline, so planning is a must. Every year when the schedule is released we all pan down the spreadsheet to our names to see how many different classes we’ll have and what classes they are. In a seven hour day, with six potential slots, teaching three different classes is enviable. Some have as many as five.
Another night, another dream. In this one, it’s the first day of school and I have about 60 kids in my classroom. I have no idea who they are and more and more keep coming into the room. I run out of chairs, then counter space, then the floor. They are all looking at me expectantly and chatting with each other but I am completely overwhelmed. How will they hear me? How will I be able to teach all of these kids at once? My mind goes blank. The noise, the movement, the anxiety all become overwhelming and I wake with my heart pounding.
No more sleep until dawn.
Logically, I know I know what I’m doing. And I truly, deeply, madly LOVE planning curriculum. Each folder holds a unit and within its confines is evidence of thoughtful work. Although every folder contains a work of love, each one is also a work in progress. The foundation is there, but self-reflection, time and research over the summer breathe fresh life into it.
Even if I have a brand new class, as I do this year, I look at each section and try to see how I can bring it to life so that my students don’t just learn, but enjoy the journey. These are some of my best teacher planning moments.
So why the dreams?
I know this isn’t foreign to my teaching colleagues. When exams approach we all share tales of nightmares where the students are cheating excessively, or it’s time for exams and we can’t find them. Likely every person in every profession has had some manifestation of job anxiety creep into their slumber from time to time.
I guess it goes back to the core of why it’s so difficult to rid myself of anxiety.
Because in a weird way, an unhealthy way, sometimes I think it helps me.
And not that anxiety that is without its merits. Some anxiety helps us pause before trying to jump off the roof (don’t tell my parents, but we did it all the time. Off the neighbor’s roof). It helps us keep close watch of our kids at the amusement park so we don’t end up on the news. For some, it makes us turn around when we are encountered with buy one, get one free during happy hour (I have no idea who those people are, but I’m guessing they are people who also don’t take the free samples at Costco).
But I can’t just stop here.
For me, just one step into anxiety turns into a marathon of intrusive thoughts.
That “helpful” anxiety that gives me nightmares and forces me to get off the couch and give Candy Crush a break turns into a runaway feeling that snowballs until it’s an avalanche.
Because it’s not enough to plan.
My greatest fear is disappointing others and coming off as incompetent. I truly feel that my colleagues and students are counting on me to bring my A game, all the time. I also believe that all of my students should feel safe in the classroom regardless of their past academic or personal history.
So I agonize over readings. Which ones might be too difficult for my students? Too easy? Too depressing? Too fluffy? I agonize over writing assignments. Which ones will allow students to work through personal issues? Be boring? Be threatening? How will I be able to reach each individual student on his or her academic level in order to help them reach their potential and grow?
These questions will churn and churn in my brain and certainly won’t cease when the school year begins. Although I will exude confidence and warmth, on the inside I will be wondering how things are going to go. Every year on the first day, I have a borderline panic attack. My breath comes in quick gasps, my voice shakes and I begin to sweat from every pore. I get to school as soon as the doors open at 6am to prepare.
Because it needs to be perfect.
I need to be on, ready, planned and confident.
So now that the nightmares have arrived, I know it’s time. It’s time to retrieve the folders for every class and create new ones for my new class. It’s time to look through calendars that I’ve kept for the last 20 years and see what needs to change. It’s time to double check the school calendar, sign up for lab times, and begin making seating charts. It’s time to get ready.
Because everyone’s counting on me.