You would think that after 33 years of classroom teaching, one would cease to have nightmares about teaching. You would be wrong to think that. Sometimes they come randomly here and there, once or twice a year, and mostly they’re easy to shake off. But sometimes they come, spawned, one imagines, by a real-life classroom nightmare that becomes obsessive, on which the educator-brain becomes stuck, as in a loop. And then one dreams of mass insurrections, students in danger, good kids acting badly, bad kids acting nicely, the naked dream, or worse, the dream in which nothing works the way it should or nothing goes the way it was planned, a dream in which one appears absolutely and truly incompetent. The weekend, of all things, gets punctuated by these nightmares, a whole Saturday and Sunday of stressing out about a work-related thing, which on Monday morning turns out to be far less of a thing than you thought it was. That weekend right there, the one you lost to fretting and brow furrowing and fright night fears: You will never get it back.
Remember that nightmare I had about distance learning? Poem #398 for easy reference. Well, that nightmare, or some version of it, was a lived experience for me on my first day back to school for hybrid learning. So here’s a poem on that occasion, unfortunately this time, not a dream but a reality. The kids are alright, by the way.
Poem on April 26
Mistakes were made. For one, on the eve of our return to the school house for the first in-person educational experience in more than 365 days, I fell on my face, cracked my nose open good and proper, scraped and chaffed myself all up one side of my hip, and cut the inside of my wrist. It was stupid–I was wrestling with a stuck dresser drawer, my feet somehow came out from underneath, I lost balance, and the dresser and its drawer got the best of me. Finally able to stop the bleeding and calm myself down enough to relax and sleep, I end up with a solid five hours of rest. Bandaged and masked, I travel this morning to the school house to “teach ’em up,” as we say, one synchronous class online, a prep, and then two in-person hybrid groups of students who have not yet had a full on-line class. And yes, too many tabs were open: the meet, multiple versions of the slides, the role sheet, my email inbox, who knows what else; I had a meet going on for kids who were watching from home and I struggled not to neglect them, and in the process, I neglected them. The lesson, mostly goofy fun stuff some colleagues created and which I agonized over, required lots of teacher speech, and with a banged up nose, some hip pain, and a mask, I was losing my voice and my breath fast. My head spun with all the logistical issues of the day: Can I touch these post-it notes or not? Can I call our tech guy to get extra laptops? Are those two sitting too close together? How do I project this video again? Why does it feel like I’ve been on my feet for four hours? Do I have time to sanitize these desks for the next group to come in? No, I don’t. Can I get to the restroom? No, I can’t. Why was I asked to show a video to students about how the schedule works during the last class at the end of their first full schedule? The school day and the work day are over at the same time. Can I be ready to go home as soon as the students leave my room? No, I can’t. First of all, that’s mentally an impossible task; secondly, it’s physically impossible until the busses exit along with the ensuing traffic jam behind them. Yes, mistakes were made, and not all of them were mine. But I’ve never felt so unprepared and tentative about a first school day, rarely have I ever been as nervous, and never, at the end of it, have I felt so beaten. A colleague of mine texted me that for a moment today she had herself thinking it was Friday. That captures it. It kind of felt like a whole week went by in a day, like this last year has felt like two, like the last four years have felt like eight. I think I’d like for time to start flying again.
Here’s an occasional poem, of sorts: on the occasion of having a teaching nightmare on the eve of returning to the school building for hybrid learning, April, 2021. I actually composed the following before I knew today’s suggested prompt, and I do think I would like to compose a poem more directly or seriously for the occasion. Teaching nightmares are not uncommon among my brothers and sisters in the profession, while this, all of this, this whole year, and in particular this last quarter of the year, is a singular moment, historic, truly “unprecedented.” I’m getting kind of tired of things being so unprecedented. So, anyway, all of this is just to say, not that I have eaten the plums in the icebox, but that I might have another poem in me on the occasion of returning to the school house tomorrow to meet with actual students once again.
Poem on April 25
Last night I have what can only be described as a Comprehensive Distance Learning Nightmare:
I begin 4th Quarter by teaching a lesson so far out of sequence that none of my students have a clue about what’s happening. It takes me half the lesson to realize that something’s wrong: with their mics muted and their video feeds disabled, no one says anything, not even in the chat, where I keep looking for feedback. I imagine that each of them thinks they’re the problem, so, out of decorum or embarrassment, they allow me to flounder. And I flounder astonishingly. I’ve got so many tabs open I can’t find the meet. Suddenly I’m looking at still another incorrect slideshow. Audio kicks in from some video on another buried tab. I can’t turn it off. I start to lose my temper, slamming my fist on the desktop, cursing in the most vile possible way into a live mic in front of thirty horrified students, when my son, as a five year old, comes into the room and dumps his peanut butter and jelly toast face down on the seat cushion of the newly reupholstered wingback chair.