Monday, January 26, 2009

School-related Nightmares

I used to have nightmares, pretty often, about failing a college class because

a) I showed up one day and discovered there was a final exam happening that day, of which I'd had no clue or

b) I forgot to go to the final or

c) I forgot that I was registered for the class, and had neither attended any of the sessions nor withdrawn from the course at the registrar's office.

Often I'd wake up in a panic and have to remind myself that I already have my diploma, that I passed all my classes -- even the fourth-level Hebrew class that I took pass/fail and therefore didn't attend as often as perhaps I should have -- and that everything is fine. And also, from what I understand, this sort of nightmare is quite common among college graduates.

Then I started teaching at a public high school in the Bronx. Ever since, my school-related nightmares are not about failing a class, but about failing as a teacher. Specifically, they are about showing up the first day of school and being completely unprepared.

In some dreams, I'm back in the States, and I suddenly am back teaching on September 1st on no notice, and so I have to scramble around getting my class schedule and finding my classrooms (which are always miles apart), praying that I won't be late or, worse, miss a class completely (and still, deep down, knowing that my absence would be because the burden of teaching these classes had been placed on me in the last minute, NOT because I'm chronically late -- even though I am chronically late, but not for teaching! -- but I'd still feel horrible as if it were somehow my fault), and I face classroom after classroom of young, not-necessarily-eager faces, and I have to tell them something about what we're doing this year and what they should expect of me and of the class, but I got nothin', because I have no clue what the curriculum is, and I have no syllabus to hand out, and even though I'm an experienced teacher and can wing it well enough not to lose their respect completely, if only I'd had more time I could have prepared something really great rather than something mediocre or "not completely embarrassing" and I'm overwhelmed because I know that for the next few months I'll be playing a constant game of catch-up, and I'm angry at the system for not giving me more advance notice and for dumping all this responsibility on me without giving me the tools I need to do a great job.

Unfortunately, most of what I just described was reality in the New York City public school where I taught for two years. I didn't ever know until the last minute (ie, the day before school started) what grades or subjects I was teaching, and I did play catch-up every single day, sometimes not knowing when I went to bed at night what in the world I'd have my students do the next day. The feeling of mediocrity that I lived with for 2 years was horrible. So it's no mystery where that nightmare comes from!

I wake up in a panic, and have to remind myself that now I teach in programs where I know in advance what is expected of me, and where I teach all my classes in one room, and for which I already have course outlines.

I start teaching in six days. Three times a week I'll be teaching two sections of 11th-grade English classes (for American students here on a semester program). I've taught this course before and not only have a syllabus already, I even have my handouts ready for the first few weeks.

I'm also starting a second job in another, similar program for American kids. There, I'll be teaching three sections of 10th grade, twice per week. Half of the curriculum will be the same as that I teach in the first program, so those lesson plans are already done. And the other half will be a sort of Journalism mini-course, which I've never taught before but it is, after all, my professional field. I'm sure it will be fine and that the students will get a lot out of it ... and I'm also sure that, though of course there will be some snags in the lesson plans since they'll be new, I'll be able to work with the kids to keep things as smooth as possible, and I'll improve those lesson plans for next year. Consciously, I know that I'm a pretty good teacher and that everything will be OK.

But subconsciously, I'm apparently petrified, because last night I had a new teaching nightmare: that I showed up at this new program the first day, and I'd KNOWN that I'm teaching and I KNOW what the curriculum is, but I'd FORGOTTEN TO PHOTOCOPY THE HANDOUTS because I'd gotten confused between what I'd taken care of for the kids in one program vs. the kids in the other program. So I have to face the students and give them a syllabus, and I've got this student questionnaire for the first day which is very helpful...but both of those handouts are at home and really I got nothin' and I'm walking in there in 2 minutes and I have no handouts so what the hell am I going to do for 50 minutes? Aaaaaaaagh...

The human mind is really something! I'm trying to tell myself that this fear is useful only as far as it motivates me to stay on top of everything and get my materials photocopied far enough in advance that I feel everything is under control. But deep down I know it won't go away completely until the courses are finished at the end of May and I can honestly tell myself that it was a job well done.

Wish me luck!

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